Villanueva working to stay ready in between appearances

Right-hander earned win on April 12 before allowing game-winning HR Tuesday night

Villanueva working to stay ready in between appearances

WASHINGTON -- The Cardinals' decision to carry Carlos Villanueva on their Opening Day roster meant that for the first time in his four-year managerial tenure, Mike Matheny would begin a season with a defined long man in his bullpen.

Villanueva's presence was crucial in an April 12 extra-inning win, as he threw 45 pitches to save the bullpen from being overtaxed. He was called upon again in Tuesday's extra-inning game, though that outing didn't last nearly as long as he had hoped. Yunel Escobar ended the Nationals' 2-1 win with a two-out homer in the 10th.

But in between, Villanueva has not found his way into the action. As a result, he went 10 days in between his final spring appearance and his season debut, then another nine days until he took the mound again. Conversely, five other Cardinals relievers pitched in at least half of the team's first 12 games.

"I've done it before and that's what I'm here for," Villanueva said of the infrequent use. "I don't see it as being a factor. I've stayed ready in between. I've thrown my sides. It's something that I have to deal with and keep myself ready for situations like [Tuesday]."

Villanueva has filled myriad roles during his 10-year career and this has been one of them. The Cardinals have not scripted it, however, so that Villanueva will only be used solely in extra-inning games. Matheny intends to get the right-hander involved more frequently, though finding those spots will be easier when the Cardinals begin to play more lopsided games.

Entering Wednesday, the Cardinals have had only two of their games decided by more than three runs.

"Games look a little different, he's going to get opportunities to pitch," Matheny said. "It just hasn't worked out that way. I know he's not looking for excuses. He wants to throw. I get it. But he serves a very important purpose for us down there so we can pitch the guys [in the bullpen] like we're pitching them. He's the safety valve on the back end."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.