Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 9:33 p.m. Updated: 11:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
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CINCINNATI In the middle of the clubhouse, Andrew Cashner sat down in front of a laptop late Monday night to review his mechanics. There were certainly more interesting things to watch from this game. But maybe nothing meant more to the big picture.

It only took a few minutes for Cashner to process those two hitters he put away in the sixth inning of a 12-8 victory over the Reds. But he showed enough flashes of ability that the thought had to run through Mike Quades mind.

Yeahwhat could have been, the manager said.

The Cubs (65-82) never recovered from the loss of Cashner and Randy Wells during the first week of the season. And the next general manager will almost certainly have to make starting pitching the No. 1 priority this winter.

Rodrigo Lopez, who began the year with Atlantas Triple-A affiliate, hung around for 5 13 innings to earn the win. Lopez (5-6, 5.04 ERA) gave up two homers that combined traveled 961 feet in the second inning.

Juan Francisco crushed one 502 feet, making it the first home run to clear the right-field deck at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003. It was the second-longest in the stadiums history. (In 2004 Adam Dunn hit a ball that traveled 535 feet and landed in the Ohio River.) Brandon Phillips followed with a two-run shot into the upper deck in left.

 

On a night where the ball was absolutely flying, Cashner hit 96, 97 and 98 mph on the video boards radar gun before getting pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo to ground out to second.

Cashner then caught Phillips off-balance, getting him to swing and miss two straight sliders in the dirt. Phillips fouled off a 98 mph fastball before staring at strike three, another 98 mph fastball.

I feel good right now, Cashner said. I feel like Im 100 percent and ready to go.

This marked Cashners second big-league appearance since straining his rotator cuff on April 5. He still believes he can throw 150-plus innings next season and be a difference-maker for this rotation.

Yeah, definitely, but its not my decision, Cashner said. Thats kind of the question right now. Its out of my control and I just have to stay healthy. I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can help this ballclub out.

The Cubs know that the Brewers transformed their team by adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter. Those are two major reasons why they should soon be spraying champagne and celebrating a division title.

Cashner, 25, is expected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and compete for a rotation spot next spring, but there are variables that will go into those decisions. No one knows who will be making them either. But this was another step in the right direction.

Just keep him healthy and keep him going, Quade said. (Its) fun just to see him because I know how miserable hes been throughout these four or five months not pitching and rehabbing. (Hes) let us know how miserable he is. Its good to see him compete and do it well.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.