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CHC@CIN: Villanueva shuts down Reds over 8 1/3 frames

Among the game's best in April, Cubs right-hander Carlos Villanueva will look to finish the month out strong as he takes the hill in Sunday's series finale against the Marlins in Miami.

Villanueva -- who looks to pitch the Cubs to their first sweep of the season and their fourth straight win -- has arguably been the club's MVP this month, posting quality starts in all four of his outings and holding opponents to just a .167 batting average.

However, he only has one win to show for it. On Tuesday against the Reds, he took the no-decision, allowing just two runs on three hits in 8 1/3 innings. He also struck out six and walked just two.

While Villanueva was a projected swingman when he signed with the Cubs in the offseason, he has been the team's most dependable starter, boasting a 1.53 ERA.

"He's been outstanding," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "To stick with a game plan is the ultimate dream for a pitching coach and a manager to be able to say, 'Just do this and you'll get these guys out,' and he's able to pull it off."

Meanwhile, Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco will be happy to take the mound in South Florida after battling the elements in his previous start against the Twins.

On a 42-degree night in Minnesota on Tuesday, the right-hander overcame the tough conditions to pick up his first win of the season.

Nolasco held the Twins to three runs (two earned) on six hits, while striking out four in an 8-5 win. The victory came in his fifth start, which tied the longest stretch into the season Nolasco has gone without a win.

"It wasn't fun," Nolasco said after the start. "Just grinded it out. I felt like I did just well enough to win."

Originally selected by the Cubs in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Nolasco is 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts against Chicago in South Florida.

Cubs: Schierholtz returns, keeps hitting
• After sitting out Friday night's game with a left-hander on the hill, Cubs right fielder Nate Schierholtz returned to the lineup against the Marlins on Saturday.

Schierholtz was back in the No. 5 spot. He doubled and scored in the second inning in a 3-2 win for the Cubs.

"I'm just keeping things simple, not overthinking," Schierholtz said. "Any situation, I'm going in there with a clear mind. Seeing the ball and hitting the ball."

Marlins: Trio of players making progress
• Several Marlins, including shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, continue to make progress on their roads to recovery.

According to manager Mike Redmond, Hechavarria -- out with a bruised right elbow -- swung the bat on Saturday and felt good. Meanwhile, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who began the season on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder, threw 45 pitches while facing hitters in a simulated game.

Backup catcher Jeff Mathis, who broke his right clavicle in late February, is also scheduled to start his rehab next week.

"It's good news," Redmond said. "We're starting to get some guys back close to healthy, at least starting the process of getting back to playing."

Worth noting
• Miami outfielders are 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts this season.

• Nolasco is 6-8 with a 4.36 ERA in 18 career starts at Marlins Park. Comments