Villarreal makes his third career start for the Braves as they try to win just their second home series since the All-Star break in their Sunday finale of a three-game set with the Washington Nationals.
Villarreal (9-1, 3.97 ERA) has a 5.53 ERA in one start and 26 relief appearances at Turner Field, but has won all five of his decisions there. The right-hander is coming off a strong performance at home, though, giving up one run and four hits in five innings and not recording a decision in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday.
Villarreal is starting after 47 relief appearances this season and 28 with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2004-05. He is 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA as a starter.
“I’m feeling very comfortable,” Villarreal said. “I will do whatever they want me to do.”
The 25-year-old right-hander made his first career start against Washington, allowing one hit while striking out four in five innings of a 5-0 Braves win on Aug. 17 at RFK Stadium. He is 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in eight appearances against the Nationals.
Atlanta (60-68) snapped a three-game losing streak at Turner Field with a 10-1 win over Washington (55-74) on Saturday.
The Braves are only 27-34 at Turner Field for the NL’s second-worst home record, only slightly better than the Chicago Cubs’ 27-36 mark. Atlanta’s only series win at Turner Field since the All-Star break was from Aug. 11-13, when it took two of three games against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Atlanta is six games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL wild-card race.
“Even from the minor leagues to being a kid, this is the most frustrating season I’ve ever had,” Braves center fielder Andruw Jones said. “It’s just been one of those years when nothing has gone our way. It’s just the way it’s been. If the season ended right now, I’d say we had a really tough season.”
Chipper Jones hit his 20th home run and Marcus Giles had three hits, stole a base and drove in two runs for Atlanta on Saturday. Giles also had three RBIs Friday as the Braves lost the series opener 7-6.
Brian McCann had a two-run double in a four-run first inning for Atlanta. He’s batting .334 with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs in 99 games.
Trainers came out to check on Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur and Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson after the two collided in the sixth inning. Johnson, running for Francoeur’s pop foul, ran into Francoeur in the basepath. Francoeur was called out for interference as both fell to the grass. Johnson was replaced by Marlon Anderson the following inning. Johnson is day-to-day with a cervical strain. Francoeur stayed in the game.
The Nationals, who have lost seven of their last nine, will start Billy Traber (3-2, 5.13 ERA). Traber won three of his first four starts this season before Monday, when he allowed three runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-1 loss to the Florida Marlins.
The left-hander defeated Atlanta in his previous start, surrendering five runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings as the Nationals won 9-6 on Aug. 16. It was his first career start against the Braves.