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Phils sign Villarreal to Minors deal

Phils sign Villarreal to Minors deal

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The Phillies signed veteran right-hander Oscar Villarreal to a Minor League contract Thursday, his agent confirmed to MLB.com.

Villarreal, who missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in April, is still recovering and isn't expected to report to Clearwater, Fla., until late February. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, said he's progressing just fine.

"Even if it's a week and a half later, there's really no big rush," Suarez said. "What we want to do is make sure he builds up his innings correctly and then get ready."

Villarreal had a bullpen session in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday in front of interested suitors -- the Phillies, D-backs, Red Sox and Rockies were reportedly in attendance -- and according to AOL FanHouse, the 28-year-old was hitting 89-90 mph on the radar gun.

Suarez said that session went "very well."

"That's why they're signing him," he added. "The Phillies aren't going to go step out and sign a guy just to play Triple-A, I don't think."

Villarreal is not expected to be ready by Opening Day, and though his agent said he can probably face live hitting already, it would be best to "baby him along" as he recovers from major surgery.

"It's the guy who finishes the race, not the guy who starts," Suarez said. "There's no reason to rush a guy that had surgery in April. He's quite advanced, but there's really no rush on Oscar's side, or my part, or the Phillies' part."

The Phillies, who recently signed Jose Contreras to a Major League contract, are expected to start the season without the services of closer Brad Lidge (right elbow and right knee surgeries) and lefty J.C. Romero (left elbow surgery) and could use an experienced arm like Villarreal if the need arises shortly after the start of the season.

Villarreal last pitched pitched in the Majors for the Astros in '08, going 1-3 with a 5.02 ERA in 35 relief appearances, striking out 21 and walking 17 in 37 2/3 innings. His best season came with the Braves in '06, when he finished 9-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 58 games (four starts).

In six years in the big leagues -- spent with the D-backs, Braves and Astros -- the Mexico native is 24-15 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 258 games (five starts).

Villarreal signed a Minor League contract with the Royals last year, but he dealt with arm issues and was released by the club without logging a single inning of professional baseball that season.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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