ST. LOUIS -- At least a cursory candidate for Thursday's start before the Cardinals assigned it to Tim Cooney, Carlos Villanueva may have pitched himself into stronger consideration for a spot start in five days.
Villanueva began a string of six no-hit innings by the Cardinals' bullpen in the team's 9-3 win over the Phillies. The veteran righty, who had been sparingly used this year because of the lack of long-relief need, helped bail Cooney out of a third inning en route to retiring every batter he faced.
"I'm always the insurance policy," Villanueva said. "I think it's something I'm comfortable in because I've done it so many years in my career. I know how to prepare."
The 3 2/3-inning appearance was Villanueva's longest in relief since a four-inning outing -- also in a win against the Phillies -- on June 15, 2012. He entered with two on and with a lead that had already been shaved to one. A sacrifice fly allowed one inherited runner to score, but over the 37 pitches he threw, Villanueva didn't allow a baserunner.
"It could have been really bad if we don't get him to eat a few up," said manager Mike Matheny, who had to also use four relievers behind Villanueva to seal the win.
In signing Villanueva to a Minor League deal in February and then including him on their Opening Day roster, the Cardinals saw value in keeping so versatile a pitcher. He has been held back for use primarily when multiple innings were needed but also offers the experience of a starter.
Villanueva has made at least five starts in eight of his first nine Major League seasons, even though 319 of his 395 career appearances have been out of the bullpen. Matheny was non-committal about how he'll fill this starting job the next time through the rotation, but he did acknowledge that Villanueva will be in the discussion.
The Cardinals also have lefty Tyler Lyons waiting as a possible spot starter in Triple-A.
"I am the swing man," Villanueva said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. If they had needed me to start today, I would have done it. If they would have needed me to come in today and then do the job that I did, I will. … Hopefully they know they can trust me."