"Not only is he a roster player, he's a true relief pitcher," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Villarreal. "I think with as much as we've used the bullpen the first week of the season, it makes sense to have a true relief pitcher in the 'pen should the case arrive where we need someone with more his background than Josh's."
Villarreal appeared in 12 games for the Reds last season and had some good showings. Although he had a 4.30 ERA, he left all 11 of his inherited baserunners stranded. But the results were poor as he competed for a bullpen spot in Spring Training. The 27-year-old had a 13.00 ERA in eight appearances, with 13 runs and 17 hits allowed, including three homers.
It turned out there was a partial reason behind the struggles. Before his third appearance of spring vs. the Rockies at Salt River Fields, Villarreal's right ring finger got slammed by the bullpen door and the fingernail fell off.
"Bad luck, I guess," Villarreal said.
Villarreal still pitched two innings in the game against Colorado and kept pitching the rest of spring until he got sent out.
"I figured if you're trying to make a team, you can't use an excuse," Villarreal said.
Villarreal gave up at least one run in each of his final seven appearances.
"You can imagine, anybody that's lost a nail, it's a constant, throbbing pain on his throwing hand," Price said. "To his credit, he found a way to continue to stay active and pitch, but certainly wasn't at his very best."
Villarreal, who worked two scoreless innings for Louisville on Saturday, had another good performance on Wednesday during the Reds' 5-0 loss to the Cubs. He worked another two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth with one hit and one walk.
In another transaction, lefty reliever Ryan Dennick was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers. Dennick, who had an 11.57 ERA in eight games for Cincinnati last season, was designated for assignment Monday.