Villanueva glad to be back in the big leagues
The 26-year-old relief pitcher was optioned by the Milwaukee Brewers to Class AAA Nashville on July 28 for his first extended stint in the minors since 2006 (he played two games in Nashville in 2007). Earlier that day, Villanueva had been tagged for five runs, including a couple of home runs, in a one-inning stint against Cincinnati.
Understandably, Villanueva didn’t hang around the Miller Park clubhouse afterward. Upon arriving at home, his cell phone rang, and he recognized the number displayed as that of general manager Doug Melvin.
“When I saw Doug’s number on my phone, I knew something was going down,” said Villanueva. “I knew LaTroy (Hawkins) was coming off the DL and they had to make a move. I wasn’t running away (from the news).”
In part because Villanueva had a minor-league option, he was the odd man out as Hawkins made a short-lived return to the active roster. Villanueva packed his bags and headed for Nashville, somewhat discouraged but intent on finding a way back to Milwaukee.
“There’s really nothing you can do,” he said. “I thought it might happen earlier in the season when ‘Soup’ (Jeff Suppan) was coming off (the DL). Instead, (Mitch) Stetter went down.
“I knew I had options. My last game was not good. My ERA got inflated a little bit.”
Actually, Villanueva’s earned run average had been moving up for some time. He began the season in brilliant fashion, pitching scoreless ball over 11 appearances in April. But a couple of rough outings against Atlanta led to a 6.43 ERA in 14 appearances in May, followed by some rougher showings and a 7.50 ERA in 13 appearances in June.
July was only slightly better (6.30 ERA in seven outings), but the blow-up game against Cincinnati caused most of that damage. Overall, Villanueva was 1-0 with a 4.96 ERA and one save in 45 appearances before being sent down.
“It doesn’t help if I get frustrated and go down there and not do my job,” said Villanueva, who posted a 3.77 ERA in 11 relief outings with Nashville. “That makes it worse. I wanted to do well. The plan was to try to come back as soon as I can.”
Villanueva was bypassed by the Brewers on Aug. 12 when they summoned reliever Mike McClendon from Nashville upon Hawkins’ return to the DL. He had to wait until Wednesday to rejoin the Brewers as one of three September call-ups.
“I try not to think about the decisions that they make,” he said. “You never really know. It’s easy to play GM. You say ‘Why did this happen?’ They have their reasons. Who am I to question it? I just kept working and waited for an opportunity to come back.
“It was different adjusting down there after years up here. It felt weird. The ball is different; the weather, the travel. But the staff was great there. (Pitching coach) Rich Gale found a couple of glitches in my mechanics that helped me be more consistent.
“I think I kept a good attitude. Obviously, it was disappointing. I don’t see myself as a minor-leaguer. This is my home, my team for the last couple of years. I’ve battled with these guys. It was a punch to the gut not being with them.”
Villanueva has been on a roller-coaster during his four years with the Brewers, including action as a spot starter. In three stints with the Brewers in 2006, he went 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 10 games, including six starts.
In 2007, Villanueva was 8-5 with a 3.94 ERA in 59 games, including six starts. And he was solid again the following season, posting a 4.07 ERA over 47 games (nine starts) covering 108 1/3 innings.
Dependent on a curveball and changeup, Villanueva was more erratic in 2009, going 4-10 with a 5.34 ERA and three saves in 64 games, including six starts.
It remains to be seen where Villanueva fits in the plans of the Brewers, who have some major work to do in improving their pitching staff. He still has a minor-league option and can’t be a free agent for two more years.