Affable Villanueva not sweating lack of wins
Right-hander staying positive in pursuit of first victory since June
CHICAGO -- Carlos Villanueva has not won a game he started since April 18, and now it appears he can only get another victory out of the bullpen. The Cubs right-hander, whose only win since April came in a relief appearance on June 29, does have an idea as to how to notch that elusive "W."
"I'm going to put a suggestion box somewhere," Villanueva said. "Tell me, what do you need from me? You want me to do stand-up for you? I can do that, I can dance, whatever."
The likable pitcher made his 15th and possibly last start of the season Saturday against the Cardinals, giving up four runs over six innings. Once again, he did not get a decision. Villanueva is 2-8 with a 4.35 ERA in 32 games, and 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA in 15 starts.
On Wednesday, manager Dale Sveum announced that Villanueva was headed back to the bullpen so the Cubs can get a look at Jake Arrieta, acquired from the Orioles last month in the Scott Feldman deal. Sveum didn't waste any time emphasizing the switch, using Villanueva in relief Wednesday against the Reds.
In his seven no-decisions as a starter, Villanueva has left the game with the lead six times, but the bullpen failed to hold on. The relievers apologized.
"They do care, and they know," Villanueva said of his Cubs teammates. "At the beginning of the year, it was [Carlos] Marmol and 'Fuji' [Kyuji Fujikawa ], and they came to me and they were like, 'Man, I'm sorry.' You don't have to tell me. I've been a reliever, and I've blown some games for guys. I know how bad they feel, I know how they feel from both sides. From a personal point, I've been so close to having eight wins."
Fans may be more preoccupied with a pitcher's won-loss record than Villanueva is. The right-hander knows he's pitched better than his record would indicate.
"Most people identify a pitcher by their record," Villanueva said. "The people who know baseball -- and you guys who have been around and seen how games have developed -- know that with a little better luck, my record would be a lot different. These days, I'm happy when we get wins on my days."
Which the Cubs have done in five of Villanueva's 15 starts, including Saturday against the Cardinals.
"It almost becomes a cliche -- I kept it close," Villanueva said. "In the end, coming into a team like this, I guess that's what they pay me to do is keep the game close. We've had our struggles, offensively, and pitching-wise. You see other teams, like the Yankees had [Ivan] Nova and [Phil] Hughes, who had 16 wins and high-four ERAs. Some guys get run support, some don't.
"Matt Cain had a couple years of 14, 15 losses and he had a three ERA. It gets frustrating at times, because, obviously, you want the record to show how well you pitched. In the end, you put the innings up and you put the numbers up, and at the end of the year, you see the record. But you have to see past that -- the hits per innings and everything else. If I was a team that was going to sign somebody, I'd break down start by start and see how it went."
If he could, Villanueva would go nine innings every start, but that's not realistic. No one is harder on him than he is.
"It is frustrating at times, but when you look at the bigger scheme of things, I can tell the boys are trying hard," Villanueva said. "When I came out of [Saturday's] game, they all came to me and said, 'We're going to get it for you.'
"That's why I love all these guys here. It's been good chemistry here. I've been on losing teams and I've been on winning teams. Here, we don't have that one or two guys where it's like, 'Oh, I can't wait until we get rid of them.' There are days when we bicker, like brothers that we are, but I feel it's helped maintain the season. It doesn't feel like we're stuck."
The Cubs' players do like Villanueva. They compiled some of his sayings for a T-shirt that arrived this week. The front features a drawing of Villanueva's face and starts with "I mean ..." and the back has "Villa's Top 10," including, "I'm the glue," and, "What a team, what a season."
As a reliever, Villanueva is 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 17 games. So there is a chance for another win if he stays in the 'pen.
Villanueva is looking forward to the days when winning is a constant at Wrigley Field.
"They're building and going in the right direction," Villanueva said of the Cubs' front office. "Our patience -- it's a tough word for [the players]. We don't want to be patient, we want to win.
"When I was younger in my Brewers days, it's not that I didn't care about winning, but I had more important things to care about, like staying in the big leagues. Now, some of us are at a stage in our careers where we know we have less years to go. It would be a lot more fun if you were on a winning team every day. You're motivated because you want to win.
"My stats aren't where I want them to be, but when you're winning, you don't care. You want to win and win, and it's exciting."
And hopefully, Villanueva will get to celebrate another "W" this season.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.