Cubs

Cashner believes he's ready to take the next step

Cashner believes he's ready to take the next step

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
6:48 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. - There may not be another pitcher the Cubs are watching as closely as Andrew Cashner this spring. This is a case study in the question they've faced since selecting him 19th overall in the 2008 draft.

The Cubs hope that the answer is starter. Cashner's potential is the X-factor in any analysis of what the Cubs might do with the two open spots in their rotation.

The comparisons to Kerry Wood are not just a media creation - even Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has acknowledged it.

"Don't do that to him," Wood said. "It happens when you're from Texas and you throw hard. I got compared to Nolan (Ryan) and Roger (Clemens). But he's going to be Cashner and he's going to be fine."

At 24, Cashner feels he's ready to take the next step, that his changeup and breaking ball are right there. The right-hander auditioned during Monday's 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at HoHoKam Park. He gave up two runs in two innings, committed an error on a pick-off attempt and watched as one run scored on a wild pitch.

"We're going to find out," Quade said. "We got people in this organization that watched (him start before). I am not one of them. So I was thrilled to death to see him in the bullpen."

Quade has this job, in part, because of the development of young pitchers like Cashner late last year. From Aug. 23 - the day Quade took over for Lou Piniella - through Oct. 1 Cashner posted a 1.40 ERA in 18 games, holding opponents to a .203 average.

"(But) from the standpoint of the future of this organization," Quade said, "if he can be a top-line starter and we don't find that out, it would probably be a mistake. Maybe he could be a top-end closer, but you weigh one against the other. We just signed a top-end closer for three years (in Carlos Marmol)."

Cashner is confident, but he's also made steady, incremental progress to get to this point, where the Cubs are featuring him in marketing campaigns.

Cashner didn't pitch all that much in high school and learned how to throw a breaking ball in junior college. He finally signed as a closer out of Texas Christian University - after being drafted three different times.

"More than anything else, I see a desire to learn," Wood said. "He's asking the right questions. (He's) got all this power and he's such a strong kid that he's got to be patient. (I) think he wants it to happen right away. He's going to be good. ... He's got the desire to be great."

Cashner is used to starting - only four of his 43 career minor-league appearances came as a reliever. But if this experiment works out, he will be in unchartered territory.

Cashner's never thrown more than 112 innings in a season. He's accounted for 177.1 innings across the past three years in the minors, which is about what the Cubs would expect from their fifth starter in 2011.

The 54.1 innings Cashner threw out of the Cubs bullpen last season might get him to May or June as a starter.

"I feel like if I build up now it shouldn't be an issue," Cashner said. "I've never really had any issues with my arm. (But) relieving is a little bit tougher. You might throw five out of seven games, so you got to really hammer out your arm exercises. (As) a starter you know your routine and you can get after it (on) days off. You know what you have coming up."

As a rookie, Cashner proved to be resilient, both physically and emotionally. The Cubs are trying to find the point where they can balance the need to win now against his untapped potential.

"The time seems right," Quade said. "He got his feet wet last year and had some success in the role we asked. Let's see if he can expand on that with what he's done in the past. (There are) no guarantees, but we think he's got the stuff, the makeup and the willingness (to do it)."

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

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

wrigley-scoreboard-624.jpg
USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: