Cubs wait anxiously for word on Cashner

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Cubs wait anxiously for word on Cashner

Tuesday April 5, 2011Posted: 7:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Watching Andrew Cashner slice through the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup, it was hard to remember why there were ever any questions about his place in the rotation.

The debate has rattled around the entire organization starter or reliever? from the moment the Cubs made him the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Cashner lived up to the hype during his first career major-league start and then walked off the mound with shoulder tightness that clouded any plans for his bright future.

Cashner left Wrigley Field on Tuesday and headed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for an examination with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo. By Wednesday morning the Cubs should know more off an expected MRI.

Hopefully its not something serious, manager Mike Quade said. He didnt have any trouble in camp. This caught us off-guard completely. But he was honest with us and hopefully we were able to get him out of there before anything bad happened.

That uncertainty hung over a 6-5 victory in which the 24-year-old flashed the potential to be the high-end starter the Cubs project. After Cashner threw his 72nd and final pitch into the dirt to walk Willie Bloomquist, he appeared to bite his glove.

There was no one warming up in the bullpen in the sixth inning as Quade, athletic trainer Mark ONeal and pitching coach Mark Riggins converged on the mound.

I didnt even realize anything was going on with him, catcher Koyie Hill said. He was doing a really good job of separating each pitch, taking his time, really concentrating. (I) just thought he was getting ready for the (next one and it looked like) something had grabbed him in his shoulder.

That was it kind of a bittersweet ending to what was turning into a really nice first start.

Cashner retired the first six batters he faced, and 11 of 12, the exception being a Ryan Roberts home run. That was Cashners only mistake, as he allowed one run on two hits in 5.1 innings. He was economical with his pitches, walking just one and striking out two.

He looked amazing, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. He was 90 to 100 91, 92 mph sinkers and (then) speeding them up to 97. He pitched like hes been around for a long time and hes going to be fun to watch all year.

Thats all the Cubs can hope for at this point. Their scouting department liked Cashner in part because of his body type (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) and athletic ability. They viewed him as someone who could repeat his delivery and decrease the odds of breaking down.

James Russell is one of Cashners closest friends on the team. The reliever said Cashner doesnt have a history of this and hadnt complained about his shoulder in spring training.

No, no, hes coming in perfectly healthy, Russell said. He was looking to do (exactly) what he did.

As a rookie reliever last season, Cashner proved himself to be resilient both mentally and physically, and that should give the Cubs some encouragement.

It also became clear in the seventh that the Cubs could miss Cashner in the bullpen, especially with Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol unavailable after pitching three consecutive days. Jeff Samardzija and Marcos Mateo walked three batters that led to a three-run inning that tied the game.

Russell blew the save, but got the win by throwing 1.2 scoreless innings and getting the ball to Sean Marshall, who closed out the Diamondbacks in the ninth.

But if Cashners healthy, theres really no turning back. Whether it was Roberts looking at a 97 mph fastball, or Chris Young swinging at an 84 mph slider in the dirt, Cashner showed the arsenal that could make him a frontline pitcher every fifth day.

Whatever the results reveal, the Cubs will have to manage the stress on Cashners right arm, which accounted for 177.1 innings combined across parts of three minor-league seasons before the big promotion last year. All along, the Cubs thought he could handle this.

Hes a smart enough guy to know its not as easy as that, Hill said. Your stuff is going to come and go, (but) the thing you can control is your composure, your preparation and (he) was on top of it.

We got a long ways to go. Im sure theres going to be some downs as much as there are ups during the course of a season. But it was a good first step.

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

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Javier Baez plays the game on a higher plane and at such an instinctual level that he can point to the catcher and start celebrating before even catching the ball and dropping a no-look tag.

Baez believes it when he looks back on his World Baseball Classic experience and says: "We're not showing anybody up."

Because the adrenaline surged so quickly for Team Puerto Rico that Baez needed that play to go viral on Twitter to realize what actually happened. Even if elements of that style – and a preplanned win-or-lose parade through San Juan – may have bothered American players like Ian Kinsler and Adam Jones or anyone else with a hot take and a fun-police badge.   

"To be honest, I didn't know I did that until after the game," Baez said. "I got to my phone and I had so many messages and so many videos about it. I was like: 'Oh, whatever, I did it.'"

Baez skipped Thursday's parade after Team USA's 8-0 championship-game victory at Dodger Stadium, returning to Arizona and rejoining a Cubs team where he won't be an everyday player when everyone's healthy. Even after being a National League Championship Series co-MVP and the second baseman on the all-WBC team.

"I'm going to play a lot here," Baez said. "I'm just happy with that."

With a split squad in Las Vegas this weekend, Baez rolled into a quiet, mostly empty clubhouse on Saturday morning in Mesa and sat down in his chair to eat a McDonald's breakfast, a WBC equipment bag stashed in an extra locker. 

The Cubs made Baez their starting shortstop and cleanup hitter for that afternoon's Cactus League game against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Baez spoke with reporters for almost 10 minutes, explaining what it meant to unleash his emotions and represent his island during an economic crisis.

"We do a great job playing and having fun out there," Baez said. "That's what it's all about. This is a game. It's not as serious as a lot of people take it. But, you know, everybody's got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.

"It's their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it's really huge what we did, even though we didn't win. All of Puerto Rico got really together.

"We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that."

Baez appreciated the opportunity to play with Yadier Molina, the Puerto Rican captain and invaluable St. Louis Cardinals catcher. Before facing the Dominican Republic – and All-Star Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez – Baez said Molina joked to teammates: "I can't tell you many details, because then Javy will tell the Cubs."

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

Baez confirmed the stories that Puerto Rican fans got so swept up in the tournament that the island ran out of blond hair dye: "Yeah, they really did."

Baez also said that he's not going to keep this look: "No, I'm going to cut it soon. Or dye it back black."

What will this do for Baez beyond his Q rating? Eh, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has already seen the swim moves and freaky tags and trusted Baez enough to start all 17 playoff games at second base last year.

"I don't know that there's going to be any greater impact than the World Series had on him," Maddon said. "There's a strong nationalistic component to this year's WBC. That was great. I think it was fueled by a lot of world events right now. I'm curious to see what's going to happen four years from now, if there's the same kind of interest or passion employed in the games.

"Hopefully, that's true. But it was almost like the perfect storm for the tournament this time around with world politics, national politics and the way everybody reacted to everything right now. I mean, you can't pick up a Twitter account without reading something volatile.

"I'd much prefer being fueled by a World Series than a WBC that happens every fourth year."

Over the years, instructors throughout the minor leagues, including Manny Ramirez, have tried to harness all this raw talent and help Baez develop a routine, make adjustments and play under control. But Baez said the Cubs haven't directly asked him to tone down the "Javy Being Javy" act.

"No, not really," Baez said. "Joe came to me last year about doing the routine plays and not (only) the great plays. That's about it.

"But in the Baseball Classic, I think everything counts. You can do a bat flip. You can pimp whatever you want, because it's the Baseball Classic. You don't know how many times you're going to do that in life. 

"I was really happy to be in it – and really happy that we enjoyed it."