Alex Anthopoulos had a busy evening ahead of the Blue Jays’ loss to the White Sox Tuesday night, locking up back-up catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $3 million deal (with a $1.5 million option for 2015) and signing catcher Yorvit Torrealba to a minor-league contract. Torrealba, released earlier this month by the Texas Rangers, will join the Jays at the conclusion of this homestand to help Mathis out behind the plate until J.P. Arencibia comes back in September.
Then the game happened, and the margin of victory was thin indeed for the White Sox. Chicago’s win came as a result of the difference between an unnecessary Henderson Alvarez pick-off throw gone slightly awry and a scorched line drive snared out of mid-air by Kevin Youkilis with the bases loaded to start an inning-ending double play.
Outside his three-run hiccup in the fifth inning, Alvarez pitched very well, going seven and allowing only three other hits, all singles, and not walking anyone. It was a solid job, and if his teammates had actually been on the field instead of mostly trying to recover from broken hands and busted wrists and strained obliques and groins and so on, it would more than likely have been good enough to win.
It wasn’t quite as good an outing as Carlos Villanueva had in the series opener, though, and Villanueva may well be the next guy on which Anthopoulos is likely to lavish some attention, having already locked up Edwin Encarnacion and Mathis to extensions this summer.
Villanueva has been a major stabilizing force in the middle of the Blue Jays’ rotation since he moved in as an emergency airlift back on June 29. He’s made eight starts — going at least six innings in all but two (and he only went five in the first because of pitch count) — and pitched to an ERA of 3.04 and a WHIP of 1.141. He’s held the opposition to a .229/.288/.360 mark, which is pretty fantastic. If his opponents’ OPS of .648 belonged to one hitter, that hitter would rank 134th out of 146 qualified batters in the big leagues.
The man affectionately known as “Los Del V” will be a free agent at the end of the season — and he wants to stay.
In a far-ranging conversation I had with Villanueva prior to the game, he stated that he loves pitching in Toronto, loves his Blue Jays’ teammates and thinks the team is definitely headed in the right direction to be a contender as soon as 2013. He also said that there’s a better chance for him to sign with the Blue Jays if they can get a deal done before the end of the season comes around.
Villanueva is grateful to the Blue Jays for making the trade that got him out of Milwaukee and giving him an opportunity to show his abilities, and feels as though he’s been a positive influence on some of his teammates, specifically naming Henderson Alvarez. He also believes that his ability to keep the room loose is a big help, mentioning on separate occasions that he can “joke around and make people smile once in a while” and that he “bring(s) something extra to this team that’s … part of team chemistry.”
He’s a smart guy, which came through over the course of the entire conversation, and said that while every team wants to get a good pitcher for a good price, as a free agent who can determine his own destiny (to the extent that he would have multiple suitors, one would think), he would like to be on a good team for a good price. Left unsaid, of course, was that “good price” means an entirely different thing depending on which side of the negotiating table one sits.
But peppered throughout the conversation, both while the microphone was on and while it wasn’t, was that Villanueva wants to be in Toronto, wants to be a Blue Jay and isn’t a big fan of change. He said that he has confidence in the team’s ability to contend (when it’s healthy) and pointed out that if things had been going the way they have throughout the month of August with an injury-free squad, he’d likely be casting his gaze elsewhere this winter.
Villanueva has shown that he can be a valuable arm out of the bullpen, and both this year and last has shown that he can be a tremendous asset in the rotation. The question is, how long will he hold up? He hurt his elbow following his seventh start of last season, which was on June 19, but battled through it to make another seven before going on the disabled list.
This winter he prepared himself differently, working out to strengthen his elbow so that he could make it as a starter. And here we are in mid-August and he’s still going strong, having thrown 80 2/3 innings. Is the time to try to lock him up right now? Probably not. But at the end of the month, if he’s still healthy and pitching well, it might be a good idea to put pen to paper and keep the 28-year-old in Blue Jays’ blue for a little while longer. Say, maybe two years with a club option for a third, a la Casey Janssen.
The interview, in which Villanueva simply shines, can be heard at the end of The Blue Jays Talk, the link to which is below.
The Blue Jays series with the White Sox continues on Wednesday night, and with Alan Ashby filling in for Pat Tabler on the television side and Dirk Hayhurst headed off for a short vacation in Maine, I’ll be stepping back into the play-by-play chair for the rest of the homestand, alongside Jerry Howarth. I hope you have as much fun listening as I’m going to have doing it.