May 30, 2008
In his first season doning the Garnet and Gold, junior Elih Villanueva has come on strong late in the season en route to earning first team All-ACC honors. The right hander out of Miami, Fla., is 6-2 with a 3.23 ERA as he enters the NCAA Tallahassee Regional this weekend. He has thrown 86.1 innings in 2008 posting 81 strikeouts while limiting opponents to a .223 batting average. Villanueva recently sat down with seminoles.com to talk a little baseball and what is in store for him in the future.
By Chuck Walsh
Florida State Sports Information
19 Questions For Elih Villanueva
What’s it like to take a no-hitter into the seventh inning against No. 2 ranked North Carolina?
“It was pretty exciting. Pitching and going one-two-three for six innings obviously (the no-hitter) is in the back of your mind but you don’t really want to bring it up. I was trying to stay focused and trying to do exactly what I had been doing earlier in the game. I was just trying to throw what I could throw and how I could throw it. It was pretty much like every other start. I was pretty sure my teammates were all thinking about it and on their minds but nobody wanted to bring it up or jinx it.”
What was going through your mind when you walked out to the mound to start the seventh inning against the Tar Heels?
“My main focus was to try and get ahead on the batters I had to face. I had had success for the first six innings and there was a reason for that success. I just tried to stay with what got me there. I wanted to keep on doing what I had been doing for the rest of the game.”
What was the difference between your start against Miami and your start against North Carolina a week later?
“I think the biggest difference would probably be my location. In the first two innings of the Miami game I was hitting my spots well but when the third inning came along I just lost control of the strike zone. I was trying to do too much in that situation. In the North Carolina start I just tried to focus up and throw strikes.”
Do you pitch any differently with the bases loaded than you do late in a game with the score tied?
“I don’t think so. I think both situations are almost equal in the sense that you still have to make your pitches. At any point in time anything can happen. Pretty much everything is the same. I try not to do too much when you have a lead and you especially do not want to press when the game is tied or you are down.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a pitcher?
“Just being able to go out the mound and start the game with the ball in your hand. All eyes are on the pitcher and I like that. I like to work on carrying my team for as long as I can.”
What’s your favorite memory of going into a game in a big situation and coming out of it with a big win?
“I think it would be last year during my junior college season. We were fighting for the number one seed in our conference. I pitched a complete game and we won 1-0. I had 14 strikeouts and I gave up only two hits. That was one of my biggest games and best memories. We beat Palm Beach Community College in the game.”
Will you ever get a chance to hit?
“I have no idea but yes, I can hit. I hit a lot through high school and last year in junior college. As a Seminole I am focused on pitching and if the time comes when I can hit I think I might show my teammates a thing or two. We have had one (pitchers’ batting practice) this season and I put one out.”
ere you always a pitcher growing up? What drew you to the position?
“No because my day always tried to save my arm. I was a third baseman and first basemen all the way up until my freshman year of high school. That’s when I started to focus on being a pitcher. My high school coach needed a pitcher during a fall game and I volunteered. Nobody was available and my coached asked if anybody could pitch and I raised my hand. I had thrown a little bit but not really much. After that his eyes lit up and he began working with me as a pitcher.”
Would you rather pitch in hot or cold weather? Can it be too hot or too cold when you pitch?
“Before becoming a Seminole I would have said hot weather. Since being in Tallahassee my first four or five starts have been under 45 degrees. I can pretty much say both hot or could right now. I think it can be too hot when you pitch because you will become drained a lot quicker when it is hot.”
At what point in a day that you are the starting pitcher do you begin to prepare for a game?
“I pretty much start focusing down on my starting assignment when I get to the ballpark. I begin going through my routine when I walk into the clubhouse. I start going through my routine first by stretching with the trainers. I then get my legs loose by running and getting my mind ready to play.”
What pitchers did you grow up watching?
“A couple of pitchers that I liked watching a lot are Greg Maddox, Alex Fernandez and Josh Beckett. I watched a lot of Beckett when I was in high school because he was pitching for the Marlins. You can learn a lot by watching those players and watching major league games. You can pick up on the small things that they do that make them successful pitchers. For example Greg Maddox comes off the mound between innings and studies the scouting reports. That’s a really smart thing to do. He always has watched a great deal of film on the hitters he is going to face and he talks to his coaches a lot. You want to be one the same page with your coaches on how you are going to pitch certain hitters. It’s fun to watch them hit their locations. I have tried to match the pitchers I have watched with the locations they can hit.”
What is more important to your success – location or velocity? Why?
“I think location is more important to my success. Location is key first and velocity is very important second. You have different guys in the pros that go 80 or 81 miles per hour but are getting it done by hitting their spots. Then there are pitchers like Beckett or C.C. Sabathia who throw in the mid-90’s and also hit their spots. The first thing in my mind is location first and velocity second.”
What is your favorite thing about pitching in Dick Howser Stadium?
“The best thing about pitching in this stadium are the dimensions of the field. It`s a pretty good pitchers ballpark to left and centerfield and with the screen in right field there are a lot of balls that would originally be hit out that are kept in the park by the screen if you make a mistake.”
What were your thoughts when you took the mound in Howser Stadium for your first start of the season?
“I was pretty much thinking `wow’ – look at where I am this year as compared to last year. I was playing junior college baseball in front of only a few fans then to come here to a big program when you are playing in front of thousands of people. This is where I want to be as far as pitching in the limelight in a big-time college baseball program.”
Were you intimidate by the Seminole crowd – or were your ready for the support when settled in to make your first pitch?
“No, I don’t think I was intimidated. I think I was ready for the great fans we have here at Howser Stadium. I had talked to a bunch of my teammates and they relayed how great the atmosphere is in the stadium. The crowd gets crazy behind you so I was prepared for it.”
What would you say is the biggest things you have learned in the last calendar year?
“The biggest thing I have learned about pitching is concentrating on hitting my locations. The hitters are so much better in Division I as compared to junior college. You have got to hit your spots. Anything can happen because of how strong the hitters up here are. During the UM series we put up 10 runs in one inning. Things can happen and you just have to bear down on every pitch.
What are the biggest differences between pitching at the junior college level and pitching at the Division I level?
“I think the biggest difference is how you have to approach the hitters. In junior college I have seen that you can get away with certain pitches that you leave over the plate or the hitters will chase pitches that are in the dirt. In Division I the hitters make you pitch by getting your pitch count up and they try to work deep into counts. The hitters up here are much more selective and thus, tougher to get out.
Off of the field, what do you do for fun?
“Many people don’t know that I am engaged and will be getting married on December 27 of this year. We spend a lot of time together in addition to spending time with my teammates.”