Two starts, two great performances, not one win.
That’s how the 2013 campaign has opened for Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva. The right-hander turned in a gem -- 7 1/3 shutout innings against the World Champion San Francisco Giants on Friday at Wrigley Field -- yet finished without a decision after a crazy ninth inning in which both team’s closers blew a save.
And this follows his first start of the year, when he left after 6 2/3 innings in Atlanta with the Cubs winning 5-1, only to have the Cubs eventually fall, leaving him with no decision.
“He’s thrown two really, really good ballgames against two really good lineups, and he’s got nothing to show for it,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Friday. “That’s tough for him.”
It’s been that type of hard luck start for Villanueva, but you won’t find the righty complaining. He was as happy as the rest of his teammates following the Cubs’ dramatic walk-off win Friday.
“Personal stats? Whatever. They’ll come. If I do my job then they’ll come eventually, but the atmosphere in our clubhouse right now, I wouldn’t change that for the world,” Villanueva said.
Before Friday’s game, Sveum lauded Villanueva’s ability to stick to a game plan and pitch that plan to perfection. Villanueva said that’s what makes pitching enjoyable.
“As you can tell, the radar gun doesn’t light up when I’m out there,” he said with a smile. “For me, that’s what makes it fun. I study a lot in between starts, and for me to be able to execute it makes it that much more fun. Having a game plan and not really executing, I’ll have those days too, but those days like today when I can go in and out, up, down and mix it up -- you probably have guys on the other team saying, ‘We should have killed that guy, we should have scored a million runs today.’ But the end result’s not the way they want it. That just makes me feel a lot better.”
Of course, one of the guys on the other team was Giants All-Star right-hander Matt Cain. The two opposed one another Friday, and it was clear that Villanueva had the better outing. But Villanueva was thrilled to see a one-time teammate taking the mound.
“It was fun facing Cain,” Villanueva said. “We met when we were 18-years-old in rookie ball with the Giants. And for me it was fun to go out and face him. I don’t know if he remembers me as well, but I remember when he came. Ten, 12 years later, facing each other, it puts things in perspective.”
The perspective for Villanueva early this season should be a good one. He’s allowed just one run in 14 innings against the Braves and the Giants -- a pair of playoff teams from a year ago. That’s good for a 0.64 ERA.
But what does he think of his start?
“For me, just having a good start means giving the team a chance to win,” he said. “Obviously you want to do well all the time, but I’ve been playing long enough to know that a strong start doesn’t necessarily mean a strong finish. For me, I just take it start-by-start, as cliché as it might sound. I’m not going to get overly excited with two games.”
Well, he might not be getting overly excited. But if he keeps pitching like this, his team will have plenty of chances to win -- that is, if his leads stay intact.
Vinnie Duber is a contributor to CSNChicago.com