If I had to lay a bet, I’d say that he will open the season as the closer. Now, the odds are probably 4:1 against that, but there are so many candidates. In fact, place your bets on “The Field”.
Anyway, Villarreal is a member of that large and ever-growing fraternity, the talented pitcher with injury problems. Brought up at probably 21 (he’s from Mexico, as far as I know his listed age is correct) he pitched superbly for the D-Backs in 2003, going 10-7 with a 2.57 ERA (in a hitter’s park) over 98 innings, all but one in relief. He made 82 appearances, second in the league, and in a normal year might have gotten some Rookie of the Year consideration. (A normal year being one without Dontrelle Willis, Brandon Webb, Miguel Cabrera, Brad Lidge, etc.) In May of 2004 he went down with what was reported as “strained tendons in his right forearm” but which turned out to be a rotator cuff strain, no surprise after getting worked that hard.
Villarreal was back in service in 2005 but pitched little for the major league club. He pitched in the first two games of the season, then was sent down until September. His overall Major League ERA was 5.27. He was probably lucky to do that well; he struck out only five and walked six in 13 2/3 IP. In the minors he was mostly used as a starter, and put up a 5.19 ERA. That’s bad, but could be worse, considering it was Tucson and the PCL. I’m pretty sure he was hurt last year as in 2004. If he’s healthy, he’s good, but it’s been so long since he was healthy that you can’t rely upon it.