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Villanueva makes most of fill-in role

Villanueva makes most of fill-in role

LOS ANGELES -- So what if the Brewers were unable to acquire a starter ahead of last week's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Carlos Villanueva says. The reliever-turned-starter is happy to pitch in.

"I don't want us to have to go out and make a deal and trade away our best prospects," he said. "We have guys in here who can do the job. If I can step up and do that for a couple of starts, then I'll do it the best I can."

They will need him again on Friday night, when Villanueva starts the opener of a three-game series in Houston. With off-days on either side of the series, the Brewers needed only one of their fill-in starters to pitch in this turn through the rotation. Villanueva got the nod over Mike Burns because he's had some success (3.56 ERA in 14 appearances, including two starts) against the Astros.

Burns has been available out of the bullpen for the last two games.

"I don't make that big a deal out of it. If they want me to start, I'll start," Villanueva said. "It's been a break for me a little bit, having some time in between [outings] to prepare a little bit."

The Brewers hope to eventually move Villanueva back to the bullpen when right-handers Jeff Suppan (oblique) and Dave Bush (triceps) return from the disabled list. Manager Ken Macha backed off his prediction that Suppan could return as early as Aug. 12, after Suppan reported feeling "so-so" on Wednesday, a day after he threw a bullpen session.

If Suppan cannot make the Aug. 12 start, the Brewers have another hole in the rotation on Aug. 15.

"I'm not trying to put any dates on anything," Suppan said after playing catch in the outfield Wednesday afternoon. "I'm just telling them every day how I feel and we'll go from there."

Villanueva provided some cause for confidence in his most recent outing, a five-inning scoreless start at San Diego in which he threw 79 pitches.

Even with that gem, Villanueva's ERA is 5.68. It was down to 3.33 as recently as June 6 before a bad outing in Atlanta sparked a slump.

"I've been up and down," Villanueva said. "I've had my cold streaks. But in the end, you have to even it out. I know there are some guys who have had perfect seasons, but that's hard to do. I just try to keep focused and do the best I can until the end of the year."

Of Villanueva's roller-coaster year, Macha said, "I think that some of the times when he's done poorly, he's really brought it down hard on himself. It has slowed his rebound a little bit. But his overall resume in the big leagues isn't lengthy, so when you start going through a down slide, you don't have all that much time in, you start to question. When we get our starters back and he goes back to the bullpen, I think this stretch will help him out."

Bouncing between the bullpen and the starting rotation could cost him at the end of the season. Villanueva, who is in the stretch run of his third full Major League season, will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time. Given his varying roles, it could be difficult to find comparable players to help set Villanueva's salary.

"I know the union is very interested to see how it works out," said Villanueva, who is represented by Fernando Cuza. "I don't worry about that. I trust my agent to worry about it.

"I don't want to say I don't care, but right now, I don't. I have to worry about pitching right now."

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Carlos Villanueva (2-8, 5.98 ERA)
With a pair of off-days sandwiched around their series in Houston, the Brewers needed only one of Villanueva or Burns to start, and Villanueva got the call because of his prior success against the Astros. It will be Villanueva's third start since a move from the bullpen, and he should be able to reach the neighborhood of 100 pitches after throwing 67 on July 28 against the Nationals and 79 on Sunday against the Padres.

HOU: RHP Bud Norris (1-0, 0.90 ERA)
Norris pitched seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals, allowing only two singles, in his first Major League start Sunday in a 2-0 win over St. Louis. He walked four batters and struck out five while throwing 91 pitches. This will be his debut at Minute Maid Park. Norris, 24, was 4-9 with a 2.63 ERA in 19 starts at Round Rock this year, allowing 104 hits, 53 walks and striking out 112 batters in 120 innings. He was a sixth-round pick in 2006 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Tidbits
The Brewers are expected to promote newly signed reliever Jesus Colome from Triple-A Nashville as early as Friday. Colome, released by the Nationals last month and scooped up by the Brewers, pitched two more scoreless innings on Tuesday to preserve his perfect ERA. He struck out 11 batters in seven innings over his first four appearances for Nashville. ... Shortstop J.J. Hardy was out of the lineup again on Wednesday, but he was among a group of players on hand early for extra batting practice, Macha said. Hardy has been working on his swing with hitting coach Dale Sveum, but is hitless in his last 14 at-bats. "We want him to where he feels good about himself," Macha said. ... Right-hander Nick Bucci was named the Brewers' Minor League pitcher of the month for July after going 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA for rookie-level Class A Helena. Outfielder Logan Schafer was the player of the month. He hit .346 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 27 games. Both players were 2008 Draft picks. ... The Brewers play their next 22 games against teams that enter the weekend with sub-.500 records.

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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
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On radio
• WTMJ 620

Up next
• Saturday: Brewers (Manny Parra, 6-8, 6.33) at Astros (Roy Oswalt, 6-4, 3.61), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 10-8, 3.59) at Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 10-6, 2.63), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Off-day

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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