Villanueva picked up leadership cues from Hoffman

Veteran swingman played with Padres legend for two seasons in Milwaukee

Villanueva picked up leadership cues from Hoffman

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A veteran of 10 Major League seasons, with stops in Milwaukee, Toronto, Chicago (Cubs) and St. Louis along the way, Carlos Villanueva has had more teammates than he can count. But only one rates so highly with the new Padres pitcher that he continues to carry lessons learned from that particular teammate wherever he goes.

"Trevor Hoffman," Villanueva said on Tuesday morning, "changed my career."

Villanueva, 32, who signed a one-year deal with San Diego in January, played with Hoffman during the legendary closer's final two seasons in the big leagues in 2009 and '10 with the Brewers.

"[Hoffman] had a great season in 2009, had a one-something ERA [1.83], but the most impressive thing to me was his second year when he didn't have that great of a season in '10," Villanueva said. "You could see in his eyes how upset he was when he struggled. But he kept on working hard and he made everyone better by being such a professional.

Hoffman reflects on his career

"I'm in the middle of my career, I'm 25, 26 years old, and seeing how much respect he had for the game. That's what I'll remember."

Hoffman earned 552 of his 601 career saves with the Padres (1993-2008), and he is now a senior adviser for the team. He's here in camp, in uniform, to work with players, including the one he helped recruit to San Diego -- Villanueva.

The Padres actually tried to sign Villanueva before last season. He ended up with the Cardinals and had something of a career revival at age 31, posting a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings.

Villanueva's scoreless relief

The Padres tried again this winter, going after the right-hander early, something that resonated deeply with Villanueva before he inked a one-year deal for $1.5 million.

"This year, they reached out early and kept in contact. I talked to Hoffy about it. When I sat down with my agent, this team kept coming to the top of the list," Villanueva said.

"Doesn't matter how long you play, the fact they made it known they wanted me, that they wanted me for two years, it helps. It's not the main driving factor, but it helps. It's continued since I got here; guys have welcomed me."

The Padres will stretch Villanueva out this spring and there's a chance he could win a job at the back end of the rotation. If not, he'll slide somewhere into the bullpen mix. He's also taken on another job, a self-anointed one: mentor.

"This guy's a leader," San Diego manager Andy Green said. "He's been a leader here in bullpens. He is willing to voice his opinion. He called guys together on the first day on the mound."

That, Villanueva said, is something he picked up from Hoffman.

"When he spoke, you wanted to listen to what he had to say," Villanueva said. "... Every time I speak to guys now, I flash back to Trevor."

Villanueva then stopped and smiled.

"I tell him this all the time," Villanueva said. "He hates hearing about it, but I know that really made a difference in my career. And that was a big reason why I decided to come here."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.