Sox hope Villarreal will eventually bolster 'pen

Sox hope Villarreal will eventually bolster 'pen
July 31, 2013, 6:00 am
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BOSTON -- If this were 2012, we'd be talking about how the Red Sox had just added a quality arm to their bullpen in Brayan Villarreal, acquired from the Tigers in the three-way deal that also brought Jake Peavy to Boston while sending Jose Iglesias to Detroit and three lower-level prospects to the White Sox.

But it's 2013, and Villarreal -- shipped to the minor leagues after seven disastrous appearances for the Tigers in which he compiled a 20.77 ERA -- is hardly a dependable commodity. At the moment he's unable to pitch, recovering from a thumb sprain suffered at Triple-A Toledo. When he's ready to pitch again, he'll be doing so at Pawtucket.

Still, the Sox have hopes for the 26-year-old right-hander, a hard-throwing power arm who's had difficulty commanding the strike zone at times.

"He had a pretty good year in the big leagues with Detroit last year," said general manager Ben Cherington, referring to Villarreal's 3-5, 2.63 performance in 50 games. Right-handed batters hit only .206 against him, with a .261 on-base percentage and a .286 slugging percentage.

This season, obviously, was a different story.

"He never really got on track this year," said Cherington. 

At Toledo he's shown glimpses of regaining his form, posting a 3.15 ERA and striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings. But he's also walked 6.8 batters through nine, indicating the struggle with his command continues.

When he's healthy again, Cherington indicated he may get a chance to bolster the Sox' bullpen.

"He's been throwing off a mound and is close to being able to pitch in games," said Cherington. "We'll see where he is and get him into games. We certainly think he can help us at some point in our major-league bullpen."

Villarreal was also involved in a potentially tragic story this spring, when his father, mother and 14-year-old brother were robbed at gunpoint and held captive in their home for a time in his native Venezuela. They escaped unharmed, but Villarreal -- in camp with the Tigers at the time of the incident -- was worried that had the robbers known the victims were related to him, they'd have kidnapped his brother and held him for ransom.