Villanueva ready to fill whatever role Cubs need

Villanueva ready to fill whatever role Cubs need

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Carlos Villanueva has been in the big leagues for nine seasons, and he's had to answer the same question in six of those. Where does he fit?

"I'm used to it by now," said Villanueva, a valuable swingman, who made his first Cactus League start Wednesday for the Cubs. "For me, instead of getting frustrated with any questions, it's a competition, it's fun and exciting for us and the people who are picking the guy. That's what I do."

Against the Rockies, Villanueva struck out eight over four innings and said the outing went "better than expected," even though he did serve up a three-run homer to Carlos Gonzalez. The Cubs need a fifth starter and had projected Jake Arrieta for the spot, but he won't be ready by the start of the season. Villanueva could sub until Arrieta is ready, then return to the bullpen, or the Cubs could go with lefty Chris Rusin, who has had a good spring and will start Friday against the White Sox.

"I've said it before, whatever they need me to do, I'll do," Villanueva said. "Hopefully, I'm showing again that I can do anything they ask me to do. I've talked to Rusin about it, too."

Rusin has talked to Villanueva about pretty much everything.

"Pitching, anything, tips, how things work," Rusin told MLB.com last week. "He's pretty good with that stuff. And he's funny, so he keeps it interesting."

Villanueva is all about the team.

"Maybe in the old-school way, guys were a little more upset about a guy trying to take their job," Villanueva said. "That's how it was when I came up. It seemed like the older guys were meaner back then because we were coming in to take their job and they didn't appreciate that. I can appreciate that.

"I love Rusin," Villanueva said. "He's a great kid, he's quiet, he does his work. It's not his fault, it's not my fault. We're here to compete and we're here to help this team. If it's him in the bullpen and me starting, or vice versa, it doesn't matter. He doesn't have that type of personality where he'll be selfish about it. Obviously, he wants to start. In the end, it's out of our hands. I'll talk to him and try to keep him calm and not dwell too much about it."

Villanueva may be the most interesting pitcher on the Cubs. He can make a spot start, pitch in relief, face one batter, go long, whatever is needed. Last season, he was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA in 15 starts and 6-1 with a 3.03 ERA in 32 relief appearances.

He's also very popular in the clubhouse. His teammates made up a T-shirt last year with some of his favorite sayings. Maybe this year, they'll do one in Cubbie blue.

Will it say he's the fifth starter?

"If it's me going there, I have no problem," Villanueva said. "I can shuttle back and forth. You never know what can happen."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.