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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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.

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”