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.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.