Tired of doubters, Villanueva wants chance to start
Blue Jays right-hander looking for commitment, full-time role in rotation
TORONTO -- Impending free agent Carlos Villanueva has heard the doubt surrounding his ability as a starter and whether he is durable enough to get the ball every five days over the course of an entire season -- including from his manager John Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
He understands the concern, especially given the fact he has started just 53 of his 298 career games, but the right-hander admitted it's getting slightly tiresome to hear.
After Anthopoulos told a group of reporters on Tuesday that, "I don't want to doubt him, but I also have to be objective and realistic too," among other things, the two of them had a talk.
"I don't really like the advertisement," Villanueva said. "GMs are influential and somebody else might listen to them and think, 'Hey, maybe they know something we don't know.'
"In his mind, it's either all the way or not. He can't say, 'I'm going to give this guy starting pitcher money,' but then still have that doubt. ... It's OK for him to have that doubt. It's OK for him to have his own opinion, because there are 29 other teams that might have a different opinion -- that's why we battle to get to free agency, so we can see what else is out there."
The 28-year-old Villanueva said he wants to remain with the Blue Jays, saying he has learned a lot from pitching coach Bruce Walton and bullpen coach Pete Walker, and forged some strong relationships in Toronto.
But it will ultimately come down to being guaranteed the opportunity to start from the beginning of Spring Training, and he also wants a mutliyear deal.
"I think I deserve the opportunity for someone to come to me and say, 'You know what Carlos, we think that you're going to prepare yourself in the offseason the best you can and be disciplined enough to take the ball 30 times,'" Villanueva said. "I'm highly motivated. Not only to prove to other people, but prove to myself that I can go out there and finally get a chance to start 30 games.
"The security of being somewhere for over a year is important. ... This is my sixth full year and I've had to make the team every single year, and it's tough. Mentally, it's a grind every year. It would be nice for someone to make a commitment to me."
Villanueva broke camp with the Blue Jays as a long reliever in each of the past two seasons, and found his way into the rotation due to injuries. This past offseason, he trained to be a starter and said he can't do anything about the small sample size he has in the rotation.
He wanted to start, but the Blue Jays' staff was set, so, like in 2011, he waited for the opportunity and has made the most of it, posting an 8-5 record and 3.58 ERA over 13 starts, while striking out 8.42 batters per nine innings, which places him in the top 15 in the American League among starters that have logged at least 60 innings.
"That isn't really my fault," Villanueva said about the lack of starts he has made. "I was ready to start from Day 1 this year. But when I got the chance in June, I have given it all I have and, the opportunity, I think I have seized it. ... The Blue Jays have been great. It doesn't matter how that chance came, the chance has come. They have given me a chance to start some games. They could have done a lot of different things, but they didn't."
Villanueva knows in addition to the amount of starts he has made, there was also concern -- at least from the Blue Jays side this season -- relating to his stint on the disabled list last year.
After joining the rotation mid-season in 2011, Villanueva went to the DL with a strained right forearm and ended up back in the bullpen upon his return. He said it's something teams should have no concern over.
"I don't see it as a gamble as much from another team ... I really believe that I can help a team win every five days," he said. "I will do my best to stay out there all year. People are afraid I might blow out. Look, guys blow out every year for any reason at all."
Villanueva has never entered Spring Training as a starter, and it's something he is looking forward to. He believes the preparation needed to start, and importance of being stretched out from the beginning of the season, makes it difficult to take the ball mid-year and be asked to throw 90-plus pitches a game. He said it's a big shock to the body to make a conversion like he has.
At the end of the day, he is just looking for a team to pencil him into their rotation and will hold no ill feelings toward the Blue Jays or Anthopoulos if they don't express interest in his services. He will always have a soft spot for the Blue Jays, but is looking forward to testing free agency.
"I can't be mad at him [Anthopoulos], because he needs to protect his side," Villanueva said. "If there is any doubt in his mind, the only thing I can do is promise him, and any other team that takes a chance on me, that I'm going to do everything I can to prepare for a whole season.
"There is only one team that can sign me. I understand if they pass, and hopefully somebody else won't. It's going to take a team that really believes and wants me there."
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.