Cubs

Cubs wait anxiously for word on Cashner

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Cubs wait anxiously for word on Cashner

Tuesday April 5, 2011Posted: 7:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Watching Andrew Cashner slice through the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup, it was hard to remember why there were ever any questions about his place in the rotation.

The debate has rattled around the entire organization starter or reliever? from the moment the Cubs made him the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Cashner lived up to the hype during his first career major-league start and then walked off the mound with shoulder tightness that clouded any plans for his bright future.

Cashner left Wrigley Field on Tuesday and headed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for an examination with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo. By Wednesday morning the Cubs should know more off an expected MRI.

Hopefully its not something serious, manager Mike Quade said. He didnt have any trouble in camp. This caught us off-guard completely. But he was honest with us and hopefully we were able to get him out of there before anything bad happened.

That uncertainty hung over a 6-5 victory in which the 24-year-old flashed the potential to be the high-end starter the Cubs project. After Cashner threw his 72nd and final pitch into the dirt to walk Willie Bloomquist, he appeared to bite his glove.

There was no one warming up in the bullpen in the sixth inning as Quade, athletic trainer Mark ONeal and pitching coach Mark Riggins converged on the mound.

I didnt even realize anything was going on with him, catcher Koyie Hill said. He was doing a really good job of separating each pitch, taking his time, really concentrating. (I) just thought he was getting ready for the (next one and it looked like) something had grabbed him in his shoulder.

That was it kind of a bittersweet ending to what was turning into a really nice first start.

Cashner retired the first six batters he faced, and 11 of 12, the exception being a Ryan Roberts home run. That was Cashners only mistake, as he allowed one run on two hits in 5.1 innings. He was economical with his pitches, walking just one and striking out two.

He looked amazing, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. He was 90 to 100 91, 92 mph sinkers and (then) speeding them up to 97. He pitched like hes been around for a long time and hes going to be fun to watch all year.

Thats all the Cubs can hope for at this point. Their scouting department liked Cashner in part because of his body type (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) and athletic ability. They viewed him as someone who could repeat his delivery and decrease the odds of breaking down.

James Russell is one of Cashners closest friends on the team. The reliever said Cashner doesnt have a history of this and hadnt complained about his shoulder in spring training.

No, no, hes coming in perfectly healthy, Russell said. He was looking to do (exactly) what he did.

As a rookie reliever last season, Cashner proved himself to be resilient both mentally and physically, and that should give the Cubs some encouragement.

It also became clear in the seventh that the Cubs could miss Cashner in the bullpen, especially with Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol unavailable after pitching three consecutive days. Jeff Samardzija and Marcos Mateo walked three batters that led to a three-run inning that tied the game.

Russell blew the save, but got the win by throwing 1.2 scoreless innings and getting the ball to Sean Marshall, who closed out the Diamondbacks in the ninth.

But if Cashners healthy, theres really no turning back. Whether it was Roberts looking at a 97 mph fastball, or Chris Young swinging at an 84 mph slider in the dirt, Cashner showed the arsenal that could make him a frontline pitcher every fifth day.

Whatever the results reveal, the Cubs will have to manage the stress on Cashners right arm, which accounted for 177.1 innings combined across parts of three minor-league seasons before the big promotion last year. All along, the Cubs thought he could handle this.

Hes a smart enough guy to know its not as easy as that, Hill said. Your stuff is going to come and go, (but) the thing you can control is your composure, your preparation and (he) was on top of it.

We got a long ways to go. Im sure theres going to be some downs as much as there are ups during the course of a season. But it was a good first step.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.