Villanueva to start Sunday vs. Pirates

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Reliever Carlos Villanueva will make Sunday’s start for the Chicago Cubs in place of Scott Feldman, who was traded to the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum had identified Villanueva as the man he wanted to transition from the bullpen to the rotation to take Feldman’s place. But Sveum originally had said Villanueva needed to build up his pitch count and wouldn’t be ready to start until around the All-Star break.

Instead, Villanueva will jump back in the rotation Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and have a limit of 60 to 70 pitches. The right-hander began the season in the rotation and went 1-3 with a 3.93 ERA in eight starts before switching to relief.

“I think the difference is, when he starts he’s gonna have to have fastball command,” Sveum said. “Out of the bullpen he can kind of get through with his trickery stuff and all that. But when you start, you’re going to have to have fastball command and get some outs with your fastball.”

Sveum said the team was still discussing whether to promote another reliever for Sunday to take Villanueva’s place, and that it would depend partly on how heavily the bullpen is used leading up to then.

Road sweeter in 2013

The Cubs will finally head home after today’s matinee against the Oakland Athletics, concluding a stretch where they’ve played 16 of 19 on the road. And even with today’s shutout loss to the A’s, they clinched a winning record on this nine-game road trip that also took them to Milwaukee and Seattle.

The Cubs ended the day 19-25 on the road; last year they won just 23 road games the entire season.

How bad were things for Chicago last season?

They won just one game west of the Mississippi River in 2012, and that came with a 7-2 victory at Arizona in game No. 159.

Going international

Sveum is pleased the organization is reportedly having success on the international signing front. Chicago has reached agreements with 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez and 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, ranked by Baseball America as the top two international amateur free agents available this summer.

The Cubs have yet to confirm any international signings, but reports indicate Jimenez will receive a $2.8 million signing bonus.

How much have things changed? Sveum received a $100,000 signing bonus as a first-round pick by Milwaukee in 1982.

Speaking of Sveum’s past, he tossed a football in his hands while sitting in his office during his pregame media address Thursday. Sveum was an all-state quarterback at nearby Pinole Valley High School, and as a sophomore he led his team to victory in a North Coast Section championship game played at O.co Coliseum.

Sveum was asked if he ever sends right-hander Jeff Samardzija out on pass patterns. Samardzija was an All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame.

“He can’t handle this arm,” Sveum said.