Villanueva poised to fill Hoffman's void
Brewers hurler a strong possibility to take over closer role in vet's absence
PHOENIX -- Another good outing by Carlos Villanueva on Friday night -- his second in as many days -- has poised the 25-year-old to serve as Milwaukee's closer while Trevor Hoffman recovers from a ribcage injury.Before the Brewers signed Hoffman, Villanueva was considered a top internal candidate to replace the retired Salomon Torres as Milwaukee's closer. With Hoffman in the fold, he was bumped to a setup role, but even that plan was called into question earlier this spring when Villanueva ran up a 7.94 ERA and struggled to limit his pitch counts in his first seven appearances in the Cactus League.
"He just wasn't getting anybody out," manager Ken Macha said, "but that's back-to-back good outings for him. He threw a couple of very good curveballs [Friday] night, and I liked his changeup, too."There was no progress to report for Hoffman on Saturday, and he is all but certain to begin the year on the disabled list. Besides Villanueva, Macha also mentioned as an alternative right-hander Todd Coffey, who saved eight games for the Reds in 2006. But Macha didn't mention right-hander Seth McClung, who has been noted in the past as a possible alternative -- assuming he was not needed in the starting rotation. Villanueva converted full-time to relief last season and thrived in the Brewers' bullpen, posting a 2.12 ERA over 38 appearances. In nine starts, he was 2-5 with a 6.43 ERA. There could be yet another option, at least on Opening Day. Macha is leaning toward using No. 5 starter Dave Bush, who was a collegiate closer, out of the bullpen in the Brewers' season opener as Bush's final tune-up for his scheduled start April 11 against the Cubs at Miller Park. If he stays on an every-five-day schedule, Bush would be slated to make his final spring tune-up on April 6. But that's an off-day for the Brewers, and also the date that players scatter from Maryvale Baseball Park for the start of Minor League seasons. The latter fact makes it impossible for Bush to stay behind to pitch a Triple-A game, as No. 3 starter Manny Parra and No. 4 starter Braden Looper will do. Those sessions will be monitored by bullpen coach Stan Kyles. Parra's day to pitch actually falls on April 4, when the Brewers play their final exhibition against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. But Macha wants to use that game as a "bullpen day" to get each of his relievers some work. Bush said he would rather pitch in a big league game, anyway. "I really haven't though that far ahead, to be honest with you ... [but] I guess it is always my preference to pitch in big league games versus Minor League games," Bush said. "Part of my preparation is the mental part of the competition."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.