Cubs pitchers: Make 'em earn it

MARYVALE, Ariz. -- It was just one batter, near the end of a great outing for Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva. He pitched six scoreless innings in the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, but that one batter got to him. Villanueva walked Rickie Weeks in his last inning of work. It was his lone walk of the game.

“I had that one walk and I’m furious about that,” Villanueva said afterwards. “You hate giving up those free runners. I don’t know what the percentage is but usually they end up scoring. You make them earn it.”

This one didn’t score, but it didn’t matter to Villanueva. If Cubs pitchers felt this way last season about walks, then there were probably a lot of furious players in the clubhouse after games. They walked the most in the National League and second most -- by one -- in all of baseball. That’s not “controlling the strike zone” as Cubs brass likes to say.

“It’s something that was talked about a lot last year I guess,” newcomer Villanueva said. “We gave up a lot of free passes.”

And it led to plenty of losses. This spring the Cubs have seemingly picked up where they left off last year. Going into Friday’s action they were tied for second-most walks (91) given up this spring. Of course that’s not a very scientific statistic considering the minor leaguers who take the mound and pitchers trying to work on their game rather than the results. But, then again, the same is true for all teams and all but one have walked fewer batters.

“Sometimes, it sounds (crazy) but sometimes you’d rather give up home run than a walk because if it’s going to score, regardless, at least they earn it,” Villanueva said.

That’s how much pitchers hate walks. Fans and managers don’t like them much either. But maybe the Cubs are turning a corner at the right time. Consider a split-squad of games on Thursday. Scott Feldman didn’t walk any in a day game against the Los Angeles Dodgers while Jeff Samardzija repeated that performance at night against the Seattle Mariners. Then came Villanueva’s one-walk outing on Friday.

“Today I was around the zone a lot more,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been working hard at behind the scenes.”

Hopefully the rest of the rotation and staff is doing the same. The last few days are a start in the right direction. After nearly walking 3.5 hitters per game last season, it can only get better, right?

  • Villanueva started against his old team, having played for the Brewers from 2006-10. He said he was exchanging text messages at 7 a.m. on Friday and while he preferred not to be too friendly he ended up hugging the opposing pitcher and good friend, Yovani Gallardo.

    “He came to me,” Villanueva laughed. “Just don’t do it during the season. I can’t just push him away. Pitchers I’m OK with. Glad it’s over now.”