SAN DIEGO -- Christian Villanueva's long-term place on the San Diego roster is as uncertain as it's ever been. That much was made painfully clear earlier this month when the Padres embarked on their William Myers-at-third-base experiment.
Where does that leave Villanueva, who has started 90 games there this season? Well, he's currently on the outside looking in when it comes to starting jobs. But those starts might not be so scarce after all.
While the Padres experiment with Myers at third, they'll conduct a similar experiment with Villanueva. The goal is to discover just how versatile he can be.
"I have a lot to contribute, being able to play multiple positions," Villanueva said. "Second is the only infield spot I've never played in the Majors, but nowadays with shifts, I feel like I've already played over there. I feel like I have a lot to add to the team by being versatile."
On Monday, Villanueva played first base. Thursday night, he was back in his traditional role at third. But it seems likely Villanueva plays second base on Friday against left-hander Robbie Ray, with the Padres looking to load their lineup with right-handed hitters.
Come September, the Padres might also give Freddy Galvis some time off while they learn what they have in Villanueva at shortstop.
"We're looking for options as we go forward into next year to provide depth at multiple positions," said Padres manager Andy Green. "You're looking to find who can be real utility guys for you going forward, and the only way you're going to find that utility is if you let them bounce around the field a little bit."
The season has been a grind for Villanueva, who is reaching base at a .297 clip, despite his team-leading 20 home runs. He started hot and earned National League Rookie of the Month honors in April. He cratered in May and was poor again in July. But entering play Thursday, Villanueva was hitting .375/.474/.531 in 10 August games.
"The first part of August has been good," Green said. "You could see real fight to all of his at-bats. There was a relentless grind that we thought was really, really good. He's had a nice stretch here. What we're looking for guys to do is, as teams start to attack you a certain way, either fight that off or don't swing at it."
That's always been the biggest challenge for Villanueva. He has immense pull-side power when he swings at strikes. But he has a hard time deciphering strikes, especially against right-handed pitching.
Villanueva's chase rate sits at 37.4 percent this season, seven points higher than the league average. Because opposing pitchers are aware of that tendency, they don't throw him strikes often. Only 41.3 percent of pitches to Villanueva have been in the strike zone.
Villanueva's ability to limit his chases will ultimately determine the trajectory of his career. For now, however, he can augment his short-term value if he's capable of playing all four spots in the infield. It could make the difference as to whether he earns a roster spot next season.
"I like being where I'm used to, which is third base," Villanueva said. "But for me, as long as I'm in the lineup, I'm happy."
Padres release veteran Hughes
The Padres released Phil Hughes on Thursday, after designating the veteran right-hander for assignment last week. They remain on the hook for a little more than $7 million on his contract in 2019 (with the Twins paying the rest).
Hughes posted a 6.10 ERA in 16 appearances for San Diego after the May trade that brought him over from Minnesota. The Padres gave up next to nothing in that deal, essentially taking on part of Hughes' salary to acquire a Draft pick (and the bonus pool money that comes along with it).
With that Draft pick, the Padres selected Grant Little, an outfielder out of Texas Tech. After news of Hughes' release broke, he self-deprecatingly took to Twitter to acknowledge the reason behind the trade.