Carlos Villanueva's Rare (and Much Needed) Pitching Feat

Carlos Villanueva's Rare (and Much Needed) Pitching Feat

After splitting a two-game set against the New York Yankees, the Cubs bullpen was a bit taxed. It took 24 innings to get through both games. James Russell, Brian Schlitter, and Hector Rondon pitched both Tuesday and Wednesday. Neil Ramirez, Wesley Wright, and Jose Veras each threw 20-to-30 pitches in their respective appearances.

The only well-rest arms in the 'pen were Justin Grimm, who threw one pitch on Tuesday, and Carlos Villanueva, who had not thrown in almost a week. (h/t to VFTB for their bullpen pitch counts.)

The Cubs needed an efficiently-pitched game Thursday night, and they got one thanks to Villanueva's rare pitching feat. Jake Arrieta pitched six innings in which his only mistake was a towering home run to Seth Smith. He struck out seven Padres, including a few looking on a stellar 12-6 curveball. He's still being stretched out after coming off the disabled list, so Rick Renteria turned to the bullpen in the seventh.

Renteria handed the ball to Carlos Villanueva, who ran with it. He pitched the rest of the game, giving up three hits and striking out three. Villanueva collected a three-inning save in the 5-1 win.

Taking into account Arrieta's status, the way the game played out was just about the best case scenario. You can't really ask for Arrieta to go nine, but combining him with three innings of Villanueva essentially gives the bullpen the day off.

So why the heck is Sean Gallagher pictured above? He's the last Cub prior to Villanueva to pitch a three-inning save. It happened right around the time when I became a legitimate Cubs fan: July 18th, 2007.

The three-inning save isn't a rarity because it's so difficult to pitch that long in relief, especially for guys like Villanueva and Gallagher who have started in their MLB careers. It's more about opportunity; the hyper-managing of today's bullpen doesn't really give too many guys a chance to pitch that long in the late innings.

Approximately seven years separate the last two three-inning saves for the Cubs, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some notes from that game.

  • Gallagher's long save came not necessarily because the Cubs bullpen was taxed, but because the team was clobbering the San Francisco Giants. They would eventually win 12-1.
  • Carlos Zambrano started the game and pitched five shutout innings. Up 9-0, Lou Piniella opted to pull his starter at only 80 pitches; this marked Zambrano's NL-leading 12th victory.
  • Sean Gallagher actually pitched four innings in relief, not three. He faced 17 batters, walked two, and gave up one run.
  • Barry Bonds was still on the Giants at this point, although he did not play; if he was in the lineup, the Giants might have scored more than one run.
  • The Cubs scored 12 runs without the help of the long ball; Cliff Floyd, Angel Pagan, and Jacques Jones collected RBIs.
  • Dave Roberts led off for the Giants, going 0-4. Roberts managed last night's game for the Padres because Bud Black was attending his daughter's graduation.
  • Koyie Hill was the Cubs' starting catcher that day. He went 2-for-3 with a walk and drove in five (!!) runs.

A three-inning save only happened twice for the Cubs in seven years. Which do you think is more rare: a three inning save, or a Koyie Hill five-RBI night?


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  • Have the Sabremetricians come up with an answer to whether Villanueva is more effective the more handlebar is his mustache? It sure appears so.

    If Carlos can start, going 3 in relief shouldn't be that surprising.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yup, the three inning save isn't that surprising, but I was surprised that it had been that long since a Cubs pitcher was used that way.

    As for the mustache stats ... I think you've inspired a new blog post. Thanks!

  • Have to go with the 5 RBI night by Koyle. Probably never happening again. :)

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