CINCINNATI -- The news that he was returning to the bullpen didn't come as a huge shock to Cubs right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who was pegged for a bullpen role before Jake Arrieta went down.
Villanueva's 1-5 record and 10.42 ERA as Arrieta's replacement also gave a strong indication that he was probably going to be the odd man out when it was time to bump someone from the rotation.
"I thought this was the plan this spring, keeping the seat warm," he said. "I kept it a little warm, I guess. Jake will make this team better now. I'm going back to where I've had the most success the last number of years."
Villanueva's relief results support that observation. In 2013, he was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA as a starter, with opponents hitting .252 against him. In relief, he was 6-1 with a 3.03 ERA and a .241 opponents' average.
"I've done well in short spurts -- the problem with me has been facing the lineup a couple times over," he said. "Starting, at least for this month, just didn't go well. I'm not over it. Where I'm needed now is in the bullpen. Jake has the stuff, the ceiling and I'm sure he'll perform as he's expected to perform."
Villanueva added that he is working on minor mechanical issues as he prepares to head back to the 'pen.
"If I don't get people out, I'm not helping at all," he said. "If the opportunity comes or the need comes for me to step back in, then I'll go back in and hopefully do a better job than I did in the four or five starts I had this time."
Manager Rick Renteria sees Villanueva as a "major potential swing guy."
"Now, it's just a matter of getting him back and acclimated," Renteria added. "It won't take him long to get acclimated to that role. He's done a nice job in keeping us in the innings that he's given us."
Arrieta likely to make season debut this weekend
CINCINNATI -- Weary from Minor League travel and a sporadic pitching schedule, Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta is understandably anxious to rejoin the rotation. He'll do so soon, although not as quickly as originally planned.
Because of Monday's postponement, Arrieta, who was slated to start Wednesday, will more likely slide into the rotation at some point this weekend against the Cardinals.
Carlos Villanueva, who was placed in the rotation while Arrieta rehabbed from a sore shoulder, will move back to a bullpen role. Further roster moves to accommodate these transactions will be made at a later time.
Arrieta made five rehab starts throughout April, most recently for Double-A Tennessee on Saturday, when he threw 44 pitches in a final tuneup. He followed that with a side session at Great American Ball Park early Monday, after which he was given clearance to rejoin the rotation.
"I'm feeling really strong," Arrieta said. "I feel like since I didn't have a normal Spring Training, it's kind of a different process, kind of being at the end of my Spring Training right now. I feel like I'm further along than that process would initially allow. Those are good things. I feel really strong and I'm ready to get going."
Ballplayers are creatures of habit, as they say, so it's not at all surprising that the random nature of Minor League rehab assignments didn't exactly appeal to Arrieta. Returning to the routine environment of a Major League rotation, and knowing exactly where he'll be and what he'll be doing each day, is much more to his liking.
"It was a pain throwing in Minor League games every three, four, five days," he said. "Not having a set routine, traveling all over the place, throwing an inning here, an inning there ... it's nice to be done with that and be back here with the team every five days taking the ball and competing."
Arrieta doesn't believe he'll be on any type of pitch count as he eases his way back in and said he could go as high as 90 to 100 pitches if needed. But any hurdles he may encounter, however unexpected, won't detract from his confidence. Arrieta is definitive about where he thinks he fits in to the Cubs' equation this year.
"I know what I'm capable of," he said. "The work that I put in -- I think the sky's the limit. I think I can be a guy that this team can rely on for a long time. I showed a lot of that last year and I'm confident that I could pick up where I left off and be even better than that. I'm very confident."
Kalish gets another start as Schierholtz rests
CINCINNATI -- Ryan Kalish found his name in the lineup for a second straight day, batting second and playing right field for the series opener in Cincinnati.
The move, according to Cubs manager Rick Renteria, was simply in an effort to give Nate Schierholtz a break. With Justin Ruggiano on the disabled list until at least May 9, backup options in the outfield have narrowed a bit.
"We're going to try to give Schierholtz a day or so," Renteria said. "He's been grinding out every at-bat. He hates to come out of the lineup. That's great, because you want them to want to be in there. Right now, we're giving him kind of a blow."
One of Renteria's challenges has been to find playing time for some of the younger players who have been struggling while making sure they're not putting added pressure on themselves as the tough times mount.
"We're trying to give them as many starts as we possibly can and trying to find the right mixes," Renteria said. "We constantly have conversations and try to make sure they stay upbeat, make sure they understand they don't have to get two and three hits to get back in the lineup the next day."
• Classic rock tunes -- not typically the genre of choice among today's ballplayers -- were playing at a healthy decibel in the Cubs' clubhouse Monday, with legendary groups such as the Eagles, the Steve Miller Band and Steppenwolf blaring in the hours leading up to game time. The starting pitcher usually picks the tunes to play on the day he's pitching, and Jeff Samardzija, a classic rock aficionado, was clearly in control of the stereo on this particular day.
• Rain postponed Monday's game, but the rest of the week looks good in Cincinnati (or so say the forecasts). On Tuesday, there is only a 30 percent chance of rain, and Wednesday looks even better, with chances of rain estimated at 20 percent.
• The bullpen will enter Tuesday's game looking to put up zeros for the fourth consecutive game. If successful, it would be the first time the relief corps had four scoreless games since last July 25-28, totaling 9 1/3 innings.