One Game Careers: Elih Villanueva


The 2011 Florida Marlins had one of the weirdest years in franchise history. After being nine games over .500 at the end of May, the team hit a free-fall after blowing a four-run lead in the late innings to the Diamondbacks on June 1, subsequently starting an eight-game losing streak. Through three different managers, Giancarlo Stanton still going by Mike and finishing 30 games out of first place, hidden deep within that season was the one game career of Elih Villanueva.


Villanueva was drafted in the 27th round in the 2008 draft by the Florida Marlins out of Florida State University. A local kid who grew up in Miami, he didn't have to travel far for his first minor league stop, which happened to be in Jupiter.


Villanueva had a sparkling 0.77 ERA in Jupiter and was called up to Jamestown in the New York-Penn League. In five games there, he had a 1.89 ERA, earning himself yet another call-up.


With the GCL Marlins, he allowed two runs in six innings as the season closed out, and his performance throughout his first season in the minors made it seem like the Marlins had found a diamond in the rough in Villanueva.


He started the 2009 season in Jupiter again, pitching to a solid 3.47 ERA in 25 starts, earning a call-up to AA Jacksonville. While he did not pitch great in his two starts at Jacksonville, the direction for Villanueva was continuing to trend upward.


2010 proved to be the best season Elih Villanueva pitched in his career. Spending the entire season in Jacksonville, Villanueva twirled a 2.82 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 115. While the strikeout numbers were low and the home runs were high (15), it still was a wonderful season. For his efforts, Villanueva was named the 2010 Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year and was moving up the radar.


The next season did not start strongly for Villanueva at Jacksonville, pitching to a 4-5 record and a 5.23 ERA through 13 starts. However, when an early-season rainout necessitated a day-night doubleheader on June 15, 2011, it was Villanueva who got the spot start.


The Marlins placed Josh Johnson on the 60-Day Disabled List for rehab for his shoulder injury and sent Osvaldo Martinez down to clear up a spot for Villanueva to make his major league debut and hopefully save the bullpen for their series with Philadelphia. Things quickly would go off the rails in the day-half of the doubleheader.


JUNE 15, 2011: FLUSTERED IN PHILADELPHIA


This game was the second of four in the series. The Marlins were in the middle of a four-game losing streak, coming off of a four-game series with Arizona where they lost a 12-9 shootout in the final game.


Opposite the Marlins were the Phillies, who were firmly entrenched in first place in the NL East and on a four-game winning streak, including winning three of four against the Cubs and 9-1 over the Marlins the night before.


The fans who came for the doubleheader saw an interesting pitching matchup as Kyle Kendrick started for the Phillies in the midst of a solid season and rookie Elih Villanueva was making his major league debut.


Florida started off strong for Villanueva despite a double play erasing a leadoff single. Logan Morrison crushed a solo home run into the left-field seats. It was a nice cushion for the rookie Villanueva to work with and settle in.


Villanueva toed the rubber for the first time in the major leagues and had a tough task at hand facing off against Jimmy Rollins. Luckily, he induced a fly ball to third base for the first out. This was the only time Villanueva retired Rollins in this game.


Pesky two-hitter Shane Victorino followed with a double down the line, and after Villanueva got Chase Utley to fly out, all he had to do was retire slugger Ryan Howard to get out of the inning, who was prone to strike out.


Howard proceeded to hit the ball in the same spot Victorino did, driving him in and tying the game at one. While it was tough to give up the tying run, he escaped further damage when Domonic Brown grounded out.


Kyle Kendrick responded by settling in, allowing just a single to Brett Hayes before striking out Villanueva in what would be his only major league at bat.


The control started to falter for Villanueva in the bottom of the second, walking Ben Francisco before retiring the next two hitters via fly balls. However, one of the biggest no-no's in baseball history is to walk the opposing pitcher... which Villanueva did, putting Kendrick on first and Francisco on second. Rollins responded to his new life by lacing a single into right, scoring Francisco and giving the Phillies the lead for the first time. He finally got his first major league strikeout after, fanning Shane Victorino to end the inning.


The Marlins once again went down without a fight in the next inning as Kyle Kendrick was in a groove. The waters would get choppy for Villanueva in his next inning of work as the control was still out of the window.


Villanueva plunked Chase Utley on the first pitch to lead off the inning. He immediately followed by walking Ryan Howard. Though he got a groundout in the next batter, the Marlins opted to intentionally walk Ben Francisco to face the light-hitting Wilson Valdez. The only way I can describe the next play is chaos.


Valdez laced a ball into the gap in right field, and both Logan Morrison and Chris Coghlan ran over to cut it off... with Morrison missing the ball and then clipping Coghlan as the two players collided. Valdez went all the way to third with a triple and the bases were cleared.


He walked Dane Sardinha in the next at bat, and Kyle Kendrick struck out by bunting foul for Villanueva's second major league strikeout.


Jimmy Rollins stepped in and smashed a three-run shot to right, and it all came crashing down on Elih Villanueva, as the score was 8-1. While he got Victorino to ground out, the damage had already been done as when Villanueva exited the mound, that would be the first and final time he would do so. Brian Sanches replaced him next inning.


The rest of the game went by without a hitch as the final score remained 8-1. The Phillies went on to go 102-60 and win the NL East, while the Marlins settled into the basement in an utterly meaningless game as the Phillies won the division by a hefty amount.


As for Villanueva, he was optioned back to AA after, and, despite spending three more years in the Marlins' system, he never made it back for the Marlins or any other team, bouncing around in the Red Sox and Orioles systems. He currently pitches for Rakuten in the CPBL.


Assuming he never gets another shot, that is sometimes how one game careers go. Elih Villanueva was called upon as the extra man for the doubleheader, and his debut was not the debut of dreams, getting crushed by a potent Phillies offense, and never made it back, sealing his one game career.


The full game video can be found here and the box score can be found here.

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