If Carlos Villanueva harbors any ill-will toward the Cubs for his latest demotion to the bullpen, he certainly wasn’t tipping his hand that way Friday.
The newly clean-shaven Villanueva greeted reporters in the clubhouse with his usual friendliness, even joking that he removed his handlebar mustache and beard because he was starting to resemble Stephen Adams, the Cubs team physician.
It was the first time Villanueva addressed the media since being dropped from the starting rotation before Wednesday’s 5-0 loss to Cincinnati.
“I’m not super excited to not be starting anymore -- obviously I want to be starting,” he said prior to the Cubs’ series opener against St. Louis at Wrigley Field. “But if this is where I can help, then I’ll gladly do it and accept my assignment like I always have.”
Villanueva’s spot in the rotation was taken by today’s starter, Jake Arrieta. A season-ending arm injury to reliever Matt Guerrier robbed the bullpen of a late-inning reliable arm.
Villanueva said he understood the situation.
“They want to bring Arrieta and see what he can do,” he said. “I (have) seen him pitch in Baltimore and here, and he’s got great stuff. So if we can have a guy in here who can be a big contributor next year in that role then we need to see what he (can do).”
Despite Villanueva’s 1-7 mark as a starter, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the decision wasn’t based on numbers or performance. Somebody had to move to the bullpen, and it made the most sense for it to be Villanueva, who has already made 17 relief outings this season.
“Villanueva didn’t do anything to get taken out of the rotation,” Sveum said. “It’s more of getting a young kid here who we want to see pitch and finish out the season in the rotation.”
In what seemed like a difficult position to be put in, Villanueva was asked to make an appearance from the bullpen Wednesday in a game he had been scheduled to start. He allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits with one walk and three strikeouts in two innings against the Reds.
“There is no room in this game to be selfish, so when you’re needed you go out there and do the best you can,” Villanueva said. “When the team feels you’re not doing that, then they’ll find somebody else to replace you and do it for you.”