Carlos Villanueva was one of the more impressive pitchers in baseball through his first four starts, surrendering just a total of five runs over 29 1/3 innings with a sterling 1.53 ERA.
But two starts later, both the pitcher and the numbers are looking a little different.
For the second time in as many outings Friday, Villanueva yielded four runs and took the loss, this time coming in the Cubs’ 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. Villanueva gave up seven hits--a season-high--and lasted just 5 2/3 innings, making the game his shortest outing of the season.
Friday’s start follows his previous outing on the road against the Marlins, when he lasted six innings and gave up four runs.
Villanueva was upset about just how close he was to making these last two starts as good as his first four. Last Sunday in Miami, he had two outs and his team had a 3-2 lead when the Marlins scored twice in the bottom of the sixth. Friday at Wrigley Field, he trailed 2-0, but he gave up a one-out RBI double to Jay Bruce and a two-out RBI double to Devin Mesoraco before leaving in the top of the sixth.
“You say it’s a game of inches, it’s one pitch away. My last two starts, I’m one pitch away from having two quality outings,” Villanueva said. “The good part is I’m close to where I want to be. I’m just not putting that guy away when I need to. It’s a big moment in the game. Earlier in the game, you can get away with it a little bit because you’ve still got some outs to work with, but I had Bruce there with two strikes, I’ve just got to make a better pitch and get him out there.”
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he’s noticed a difference with Villanueva since his final inning in Miami.
“I think the thing that got him in the last inning in Miami was elevation,” Sveum said. “Today he couldn’t get the ball down. Everything was up, every breaking ball, fastball. When he tried to make a good pitch, it was up in the zone or missing location. Just more than anything his elevation. He was just getting the ball up.”
The weather conditions were tough Friday, with wind, rain and cold making for an all-around dreary day on the North Side. Some suggested Villanueva’s day could have gone a whole lot worse had the wind not been blowing in as hard as it was. But the pitcher disregarded the conditions.
“The only ball that would have gone out there was [Todd] Frazier’s [fly ball]. But it’ll blow out one day, and it’ll be the other way,” Villanueva said. “You try not to get too caught up in the conditions and pitch my game regardless. If it’s blowing in or out, I can’t really change my gameplan because of that.”
But whether under the protective roof of Marlins Park or exposed to the harsh Wrigley weather, Villanueva’s last two outings have ended much differently than his first four. Unfortunately for the pitcher and for the Cubs, that has meant a pair of losses.