Carlos Villanueva proving to be Cubs’ ace in the hole
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com April 18, 2013 10:40PM
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 18: Starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva #33 of the Chicago Cubs delivers the ball against the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field on April 18, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The facts: 7:10 p.m., Ch. 26, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (1-0, 4.50).
THE REST OF THE SERIES
Saturday: 6:10 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Edwin Jackson (0-2, 6.06) vs. Hiram Burgos (major-league debut).
Sunday: 1:10 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.00)
vs. Wily Peralta (0-1, 6.19).
Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija kicks off the Cubs’ weekend series in Milwaukee on Friday, but the staff’s top pitcher 2½ weeks into the season is the career swingman who had his third impressive start in as many games in a 6-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.
“You ride the good times,” said Carlos Villanueva, who allowed two solo home runs in seven strong innings. “I feel good, and hopefully I can carry it through the whole year.”
Villanueva (1-0), the last pitcher plugged into the rotation after a spring-training injury to Matt Garza, is the poster boy for a unit that has been the team’s only strength. Mixing speeds with four pitches, Villanueva has allowed three runs — all on solo homers — in 21 innings.
“He’s awesome,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose two-run homer ahead of Alfonso Soriano’s first of the year highlighted a four-run third inning.
“Hopefully any time I’m out there the guys feel they have a chance to win,” Villanueva said. “That’s what makes me feel a part of this. I know it’s only been three starts, but so far it’s been good results.”
No closer to closer
Carlos Marmol’s 1-2-3 ninth inning, which included two strikeouts, didn’t do anything to change the closer situation, according to manager Dale Sveum.
“We’re just going to continue to keep it what it is,’’ he said of the matchup-based committee approach with Kyuji Fujikawa on the disabled list. “If the lefties would have been coming up in the ninth inning [instead of the eighth], I would have saved [lefty James] Russell for the ninth inning. It wasn’t a save situation anyway.”
After losing the closer job five games into the season, Marmol had five scoreless outings during the eight-game homestand. He struck out five and gave up two walks and four hits in five innings.
“Nothing’s changed,” Sveum said of his status, “but it’s just nice to see with Marmol, I think that’s five fairly clean innings in a row since he’s been out of that role.”
Without knowing whom he was talking about specifically, Sveum acknowledged White Sox head groundskeeper Roger “The Sodfather” Bossard, who oversaw the resurfacing and installation of the drainage system at Wrigley Field in 2007-08.
“It’s a credit to whoever put the field together and the drainage system,” said Sveum, who braced all morning for a second consecutive rainout. “I was shocked how dry it was when I walked out there about an hour before the game, the whole outfield. Even after dumping the tarp, it wasn’t that bad in left field.
“Once we knew we had somewhat of a window, they didn’t even really have to prepare the field that much because it drained so good.”
The Cubs scrapped plans to have Garza (lat strain) start his rehab assignment Friday at Kane County because of concerns about the weather and field conditions. He’ll throw a two-inning simulated game in Milwaukee, then join Class AA Tennessee for a rehab stint.
◆ Left-hander Hisanori Takahashi cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Iowa.
◆ Shortstop Starlin Castro didn’t draw a walk in his first 58 plate appearances, then drew two Thursday. His double in the sixth gave him a 10-game hitting streak.
◆ Soriano’s third-inning homer gave him his first RBI of the season. It was his first April homer since 2011.