Cubs designate Lendy Castillo as Villanueva signing becomes official

989543.png

Cubs designate Lendy Castillo as Villanueva signing becomes official

Well, I guess we got our answer as to who the odd man out is.

The Cubs had reached an agreement with right-hander Carlos Villanueva a month ago, several days before even the Christmas holiday. But the 40-man roster was at its limit and in order to add the 29-year-old veteran, somebody had to go.

Lendy Castillo was designated for assignment Saturday as Villanueva's signing finally became official.

Castillo began his career as a shortstop in the Phillies organization, but converted to a pitcher in 2010 and showed enough promise for the Cubs to select him in the 2011 Rule 5 draft.

The 23-year-old appeared in 13 games for the big-league club last season, suffering through a 7.88 ERA and 2.25 WHIP in 16 innings.

Castillo went on the disabled list May 11 with a groin strain and missed several months before being recalled in mid August. He had never pitched above the Single-A level before 2012.

By placing him on waivers, the Cubs risk losing Castillo to another team, but it has cleared room for Villanueva, whose flexibility will come in handy on this year's team. The former Blue Jay and Brewer has made 56 starts in his MLB career and 245 relief appearances, with a 4.26 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

The Cubs still need to free up another spot on the 40-man roster for new acquisition Scott Hairston, assuming the reported deal goes through without a hitch.

Morning Update: Theo Epstein gets big extension, White Sox win fifth straight

Morning Update: Theo Epstein gets big extension, White Sox win fifth straight

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox look to win sixth straight game on CSN

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

Five more years: Theo Epstein signs massive contract extension with Cubs

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Fire shut out in loss at streaking Seattle

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”