Cashner will bring the heat for Padres

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Cashner will bring the heat for Padres

PEORIA, Ariz. Listen to the scouts talking in the back of the press box, or follow it on Twitter, and you get a sense of the buzz building around Andrew Cashner, the velocity hitting 103, 104 mph.

A Padres insider downplayed those superhuman numbers, saying the radar gun is hot in Peoria, but also didnt dispute that Cashner is blowing away hitters with 100 mph heat.

Cashner doesnt get caught up in the hype. He hears things, but doesnt pay much attention to the triple digits, or feel the need to analyze it. Its almost as if hed rather pull the phone from his locker and show you a picture of the swamp buggy he designed for duck hunting trips.

The new administration at Clark and Addison determined that Cashner would max out as a reliever. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod drafted and developed Anthony Rizzo with the Red Sox, and then made him a key prospect in the Adrian Gonzalez deal.

Cubs executives framed last Januarys trade as giving up a late-inning power arm to get their first baseman and clubhouse leader of the future. The Padres who visit HoHoKam Stadium on Monday made a different calculation and see Cashner as a potential rotation piece for 2013 and beyond.

Its not so much proving them wrong. Its just proving (it) to myself, Cashner said last week. Whatever sport you play, there is always going to be doubters and Im always trying to prove to myself that I can pitch here and I can start.

Cashner has notched 11 strikeouts and allowed one run in eight Cactus League innings. The 25-year-old right-hander picked up this spring where he left off last September one run in six appearances after a rotator cuff strain nearly wiped out his entire 2011 season.

When I came back, everyone was doubting that I was healthy, Cashner said. Every night I was going out there and giving everything I had and it was still: Are you healthy? Theyve never once asked me over here if Im healthy or not. I just kind of came in from Day 1 (and) they havent held me back at all.

Theyve let me be me and thats been the biggest thing.

Cashner grew up in Texas watching Kerry Wood and fair or not drew those comparisons from team officials and the Chicago media because of his background and build (6-foot-6, 200 pounds).

Cashner got hurt at a time when the organization was still somewhat sensitive after what Wood and Mark Prior went through, and fans certainly hadnt forgotten.

The overlooked part was that the Cubs rationalized selecting Cashner with the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, in part, because he was so fluid as the Texas Christian University closer, and was once athletic enough to be a high school shortstop.

San Diego manager Bud Black still sees many of those same qualities in Cashner. Black pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues, and was the pitching coach on the 2002 Angels team that won the World Series. The Padres also have a strong reputation for developing pitching talent.

He has three pitches that he throws for strikes, so I think the repertoire is there, Black said. Its a repeatable delivery, everything you look for (in a starter). Weve done a couple of things with his stride, just shortened it a touch, but its an athletic guy that has good body control, good coordination (and) the arm works easy. I definitely see a potential starter.

In the past, Cubs officials were split as to whether Cashner would develop as a starter or a closer (that too, Black said). But the Padres manager just wants Cashner to get acclimated to a new team after throwing only 10.2 innings in the big leagues last season.

There are some philosophical things that hes got to buy into that we believe in, Black said, (like) the down-and-away fastball. Some guys are so hell-bent on pitching in. (You) got to pitch in, both for effect and for strikes. But the foundation of pitching is locating the ball down and away. Because of his velocity, people have said: Hey, just throw in, they cant get around on it.

Cashner was blindsided by the trade, but he has nothing bad to say about the Cubs. Former teammates are some of his best friends, and he credits the coaching staff for teaching him how to pitch.

But Cashner will be happy in San Diego, a laid-back city that matches his personality. He knows theres no better place in baseball to pitch than Petco Park. He doesnt need a radar gun to realize that hes never felt this sharp or been this excited for a season to start.

Last year was the biggest year for me as far as learning the business side of baseball (and) growing as a player, Cashner said. (It) made me more mentally tough than anything, just everything that I went through and (how) everything went (for the team) as a whole. I feel like I got maybe a chip on my shoulder this year and Im more focused and more determined.

Im a big believer in everything happens for a reason. Well find out.

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”