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Cubs vs. Pirates Preview, Sunday 7/7, 1:20 CT: Rotation Return

Carlos Villanueva returns to the rotation Sunday. Dale Sveum could have had him more ready to do so.

Jonathan Daniel

Here are Carlos Villanueva's pitch counts for his eight starts this year, most of which were good outings (five quality starts):

92, 93, 87, 99, 1OO, 95, 1O1, 8O

Pretty consistent, right? Stretched out pretty well?

Now, here are Carlos Villanueva's pitch counts for the 16 relief appearances he's made since he left the rotation on Matt Garza's return:

14, 42, 22, 14, 2, 12, 44, 14, 11, 19, 13, 4, 12, 8, 11, 44

All over the place. We have discussed many times here how Villanueva was being misused by not being used as a "long reliever" -- and that's especially true because it was almost certain that he'd be returning to the rotation. For reference, the MLB average of pitches per inning is about 16. In just five of those 14 appearances did Villanueva go over that. He did get stretched out -- a bit -- in his last outing Tuesday in Oakland, the only appearance of the 14 in which he went more than two innings. This article indicates Villanueva will be limited to "60-70 pitches" today.

Pretty much everyone in the bullpen is available today. Even Matt Guerrier, who threw two innings Saturday, could probably be used if needed (he threw only 16 pitches). Still, if Villanueva had been used properly instead of as just another reliever, he could be more ready to step back into a role that it was pretty obvious the team would need him for, eventually.

Cubs lineup:

Borbon CF, Castro SS, Rizzo 1B, Soriano LF, Valbuena 3B, Schierholtz RF, Barney 2B, Castillo C, Villanueva P

The Pirates lineup was not available at the time I wrote this post. Please check the BCB Twitter feed for the Pirates lineup.

Today's Starting Pitchers

Carlos Villanueva

Carlos Villanueva


vs. A.J. Burnett

A.J. Burnett


vs. Pit


vs. Cubs

2013 - Carlos Villanueva 2-4 24 8 0 0 0 1 70.1 63 29 27 8 19 52 3.45 1.17

2013 - A.J. Burnett 4-6 14 14 0 0 0 0 89.1 66 32 31 8 35 99 3.12 1.13

Carlos Villanueva has made three relief appearances against the Pirates this year, throwing a total of five innings and allowing four hits and one earned run, with five strikeouts. That's pretty good, but it probably indicates nothing regarding today's start. Current Pirates are hitting .351 (small sample size, 20-for-57) with three home runs, two of them from Garrett Jones.

A.J. Burnett has been out almost a month with a right calf strain; this is his first start after being activated from the disabled list. His last start before the DL stint was June 8 at Wrigley Field, where he allowed four hits and two runs in 8⅓ innings, both of those runs coming on a ninth-inning homer by Alfonso Soriano. Burnett has never lost at Wrigley Field in six starts there, posting a 2.91 ERA and 0.946 WHIP. Doom? Maybe.

Today's game is on WGN.

Here is the complete Mediacenter for today. Gameday game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout.

Here's the scoop on game threads for 2013. You'll find the game preview -- like this one -- posting as the first link in the StoryStream™, which will then contain all the overflow threads and the recap. The recap will also be on the front page as a separate post; once I post a game recap, the stream for each game will be retitled "Cubs vs. (Team) (Day of Week) Game Threads" so you can go back and find every thread related to that particular game.

In general, game previews will post two hours before game time. Exception: for day games after night games, that will usually be 90 minutes.

You will also be able to find the First Pitch Thread and all the overflow threads in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page (you can also find them in this section link). They will also appear in this StoryStream™. As I've done for each regular-season game for several years now, we'll have the First Pitch thread at five minutes before game time (moved up from actual game time per your requests), then an overflow one hour, two hours and 2:45 after game time.

Discuss amongst yourselves.