Cubs

Cashner keeps his grip on Cubs rotation

Cashner keeps his grip on Cubs rotation

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted 9:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

TEMPE, Ariz. It was cold, wet and windy, the conditions that Andrew Cashner will encounter at some point this season at Wrigley Field.

Cashner convinced the Cubs front office that he deserved a spot on the major-league roster with the way he finished last season, posting a 1.40 ERA in his final 18 games. But its unlikely that hes going to Chicago as a bullpen piece.

Maybe this was Cashners last chance to make an impression before manager Mike Quade, general manager Jim Hendry and their lieutenants meet Tuesday to make more personnel decisions.

But opinions began forming years ago on Cashner, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Cubs believe he can become a front-line starter, and that projection probably trumps everything else.

On a gray Monday afternoon at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Cashners start was washed out and the game canceled with the Cubs leading the Angels 7-4 in the top of the fourth inning.

Cashner lost his grip on a few sliders and allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks across three innings. But its difficult to see him slipping away from the rotation.

Ive thrown the ball well this whole spring, Cashner said. Whatever decision they come up with, thats what Im going to do. Ive given it my best shot and I could have pitched better, but I thought I pitched well enough. So well see what happens.

Cashner hasnt dominated like Randy Wells (1.35 ERA), who accepted the challenge and seemingly established himself as the fourth starter. But the 24-year-old also hasnt been overwhelmed like Carlos Silva (15.88 ERA).

That, in essence, is the steady Cashner, who doesnt get very high or very low.

Theres so much I like about his poise, his calmness, Quade said. The stuff is there.

Its just a matter of being consistent. Cashners trying to get the feel back for his changeup, which he didnt use much out of the bullpen last year. The Cubs think it is major-league ready.

Cashner will also have to harness a fastball that runs close to 100 mph. He has to mix in three pitches for six, seven innings at a time, instead of the three batters hed face last season.

In five Cactus League appearances, Cashner still hasnt stretched out beyond four innings yet, and the Cubs will be monitoring his pitch counts to see just how deep he can work into games.

After Cashner struggled with his grip and a few sliders drifted out of the zone, he spoke with Greg Maddux, the front-office assistant who watches in uniform from the dugout and has become another set of trusted eyes.

Cashner felt like he was getting ahead of hitters, but couldnt finish them off.

I got 0-2 (and) strike one on a lot of guys and I just didnt make that pitch that I needed to, Cashner said. Thats what (I) talked to Maddux about. Hes just like: You dont have to be great, just be good.

That just about sums it up. Cashner didnt have to be perfect or pitch like a Cy Young winner this spring to get the job. The weight of the franchise isnt on his shoulders. Right now all the Cubs need is a reliable fifth starter, while hoping he becomes much more than that in the future.

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

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.