Cubs designate Lendy Castillo as Villanueva signing becomes official

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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.

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field – the playoff matchup the Cubs dreaded in an elimination game – will happen more than seven months later under far different circumstances.

The Cubs have a 2016 championship banner flying next to the iconic center-field scoreboard – the ultimate response to any questions about their slow start to this season. The San Francisco Giants can’t have Madison Bumgarner saunter out of the bullpen when he’s recovering from a dirt-bike accident, another reason why an odd-year team is much closer to last place than first in an improved National League West.

The Giants don’t have the same aura, because the Cubs staged an epic comeback to end a best-of-five division series last October, scoring four runs again five different relievers in the ninth inning at AT&T Park.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,” Joe Maddon said. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again. I’ll get to see him (Tuesday night), but that’s OK, compared to whatever that day would’ve been.”

Maddon has admitted this already, but it is still telling from a manager who always tries to stay in the moment and ignore the negativity. It says something about a Giant franchise that had won 10 straight postseason elimination games and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and a fan base that used to expect things to go wrong in Wrigleyville after more than a century of losing.

“That whole Game 4 in San Francisco, I did focus on that a lot,” Maddon said. “Just trying to understand Game 5 back at home – how this is going to play out – and do whatever we possibly can to win that game there that night in San Francisco.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battle-tested – Game 5, back here with (Cueto) pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought that pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Even though the Cubs still had to survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning their first NL pennant in 71 years. And come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and beat the Cleveland Indians on the road in a 10-inning Game 7 for the ages.

[RELATED: Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen]

“That’s what good teams do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented club, very solid all around. You don’t win the World Series unless you are.

“Look back at our success, how many times were we looking at elimination? No, you’re never surprised in the postseason. Anything those teams do, it’s because they’re there for a reason. They’re very good.”

Lester beat Cueto in a 1-0 instant classic when Javier Baez lifted a 3-2 quick pitch into the basket beneath the video ribbon in the left-field bleachers. Cueto kept the Cubs so off-balance in Game 1 that Baez actually walked up to home plate in the eighth inning thinking bunt.

The Giants reacted to that Game 4 meltdown by giving All-Star closer Mark Melancon a four-year, $62 million contract at the winter meetings, trying to fix a bullpen that led the majors with 30 blown saves last season.

“It was close,” Bochy said. “Three outs from taking it to Game 5 with a pretty good pitcher going. We can speculate all we want. There’s no point in that. It didn’t happen.

“But, sure, you look back. That’s how tight that series was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold on. Give them credit – great job coming back. We’re a team that plays very well under pressure, and we did there. Just couldn’t hold on to that ninth inning.”

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-2, 3.57 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (4-3, 4.50 ERA)

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