Cubs

Cashner could be X-factor for Cubs

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Cashner could be X-factor for Cubs

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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READ: What's left to watch?
VIDEO: Golf at Wrigley Field

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.

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

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USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

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USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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