Until July 2013, Pedro Villarreal had spent his seven-year professional baseball career almost exclusively as a starting pitcher. But after middling levels of success in the upper levels of the minors, including a particularly rough big-league start, the Reds decided to see how Villarreal would take to a bullpen role. Outside of a couple spot starts, he would spend his first full season as a reliever in 2014.
Villarreal allowed one run during his first two appearances of the season, which only lasted 1/3 of an inning each, and also featured a brief lapse in control, as he issued two walks over the 2/3 of an inning. The 26-year old righty responded by reeling off seven straight scoreless outings, spanning 10 innings. Over this stretch, he fanned seven and turned in a 0.60 WHIP, aided by the fact that he did not walk a single batter. Villarreal was victimized by the long ball in his last two appearances of April, which led to him surrendering five runs in 2.2 innings, inflating his ERA to 4.05.
Although the newly transformed reliever would begin May by allowing a run in his third straight appearance, he would settle into a nice groove over his next nine outings. Despite battling his control over this stretch (five walks in 9.1 IP), Villarreal pitched to a 1.93 ERA, as he allowed only six hits and struck out 20% of the batters he faced. He allowed a very stingy .196 BAA in May, which helped him post a solid 3.52 ERA, despite an atypical high walk rate of 7.9%.
Villarreal only pitched in one game in June before landing on the 7-day DL, on June 11th, with a strained right forearm. His DL stint was brief though, as he returned on June 21st to pitch a perfect inning, with a strikeout, against the Mississippi Braves. Villarreal would struggle over his next three appearances, as he allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in two innings pitched.
Despite the subpar outings to finish June, it appeared the injury concerns were behind him, as he turned in his best month of the season in July, appearing in nine games, including one effective four-inning spot start. Although he accumulated a very solid 2.70 ERA, Villarreal was actually a bit unlucky, as International League batters hit an unusually high .383 on ball in play. He posted outstanding peripherals though, as he punched out 28.6% of the hitters he faced, and walked only 2.9%.
Villarreal rode the momentum right into August, as he surrendered only one earned run, in 7.2 innings pitched, over his only four appearances in Louisville. The Reds took notice of the right-handed pitcher’s improvement, as he earned a promotion to the big league club on August 21st, for the remainder of the season. Villarreal logged 14.2 major league innings in August and September, and the results were promising. He showed increased velocity, compared to his previous stints in Cincinnati, and although his walk rate doubled, he was able to maintain his AAA strikeout rate in the majors.
In 2014, Pedro Villarreal seamlessly executed the transition from starter to reliever, as his improved stuff allowed him to enjoy a successful season. He showed great versatility by both pitching multiple innings and effectively throwing on back-to-back days. Although Villarreal may begin the 2015 season in Louisville, for the third consecutive season, he will be near the top of the list for a call-up, if the Reds bullpen struggles with either effectiveness or health.
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