JUPITER, Fla. -- Pressed to make a decision before Carlos Villanueva would, the Cardinals informed the veteran right-hander on Monday that they have a spot for him in their Opening Day bullpen. In doing so, the Cards have all but determined the seven relievers who will open the season with St. Louis.
While the Cardinals are delaying other roster decisions until later in the week, they didn't have the luxury of doing so with this one. Villanueva's Minor League contract included an opt-out clause that he could trigger on Monday. That would have allowed him to become a free agent and pursue work with another club.
While driving to the ballpark on Monday, Villanueva was still unsure whether he factored into the Cardinals' plans. His concerns were assuaged by a nod, a smile and a handshake from manager Mike Matheny, who informed Villanueva of the organization's decision before the game.
"I told Mike it would have been very disappointing having to shake hands and say goodbye to the group," Villanueva said. "I'm glad I proudly get to wear this uniform."
The Cardinals signed Villanueva, 31, envisioning that his versatility could be an asset. That's the same reason they're keeping him. Villanueva will serve as a swingman in the bullpen with an ability to eat up innings as a long reliever or otherwise pitch in shorter stints. Under Matheny, the Cardinals have never opened the season with a defined long man in the 'pen.
"We see a guy who can help us in some tight situations and hopefully get us out of some messes," Matheny said. "He's been very clear that he loves his role, and that role is to be whatever we want him to be. And that's a nice weapon to have."
Villanueva has allowed six earned runs on 14 hits this spring, though six of those hits and four of those runs came against him in his Grapefruit League debut.
"After the first game I had here where I gave up those four runs, I was like, 'Well, I might as well pack my bag,'" Villanueva said. "After that day, you let go a little bit of the pressure. I know what I can do. They know what I can do. As long as I'm healthy, I don't think it was going to come down to performance that much because you build a track record."
In addition to offering the Cardinals length out of the bullpen, Villanueva could be used as a spot starter.
"I understand my role," Villanueva said. "I know I'm not a game-changing starter or anything. But I am somebody that knows that I can help those guys and help this team keep those guys fresh so hopefully when it's crunch time, those guys will be very, very fresh and I'll have done my job."
In purchasing Villanueva's contract, the Cardinals now have 39 players on their 40-man roster.