The long road back for Wood and Cashner

538505.jpg

The long road back for Wood and Cashner

Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011Posted: 8:45 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
CINCINNATI Andrew Cashner remembers being a teenager, sitting on the couch with his parents watching Kerry Wood hit a home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS.

Growing up in Texas, there were two pitchers to idolize, Wood and Nolan Ryan, the cowboys who brought 100 mph heat.

When the media and Cubs officials continued comparing Cashner to Wood during spring training, Wood shook his head and said: Dont do that to the kid.

Wood enjoys not being the center of attention anymore. Hes no longer the story every time he pitches. He knows the questions that will keep coming at Cashner.

Theyve talked about how to attack hitters, learning to trust your fastball and coming back from injuries. But when Cashner strained his rotator cuff and disappeared to the teams rehab facility, Wood knew from experience to keep his distance.

I think the best thing I did for him when he went to Arizona was leave him alone, Wood said. I know when I went through it I didnt want to hear (anything). I stopped answering the phone because I didnt want to hear every five (minutes): How you feeling? Hows it going?

Wood reinvented himself after a series of injuries. No one else in the clubhouse knows the daily frustrations and the weight of expectations quite like him.

When the Cubs chose Cashner with the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, they thought he could develop into a frontline starter or an elite closer.

Cashner teased everyone in his first big-league start on April 5 at Wrigley Field. With his parents sitting in the stands, he limited the Arizona Diamondbacks to one run on two hits in 5.1 innings before feeling something. He didnt even shower and headed straight to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for an MRI.

It was a long road back Cashner re-aggravated the injury roughly six weeks later but the Cubs wanted him to pitch this month so that he could head into his offseason program in the right frame of mind. He will start in the Arizona Fall League and hopes to get a chance to compete for a rotation spot in spring training.

Starting pitching figures to be the organizations No. 1 priority this winter. There wont be many options on the free-agent market, the cost will be extremely high and the Cubs already drained their prospect base in the Matt Garza deal.

The 25-year-old Cashner could be an X-factor in these plans. Hes also never thrown more than 112 innings in a season before and will be recovering from the first serious injury of his career.

You got to keep all that stuff in perspective, Wood said. A starter here and there definitely changes things for this team. But is he the guy? I think that remains to be seen.

We all know what hes capable of doing. But you dont want to risk sending a guy out there to go through 180-plus innings next year coming off a nine-inning season. So you cant put too muck stock into that until the time comes.

The Cubs have been extremely cautious with Cashner, probably because enough people around here remember what happened to Wood and Mark Prior. Right now when Cashner throws an inning, hes automatically off for the next two days.

He knows hes good enough to be here, Wood said. I know hes frustrated he didnt get back sooner. But he knows that he took care of himself and got it back to be at this level and be here for awhile. He went about it the right way and was patient with it. Hes bounced back and looks great so far.

Everyone in the room listens to Wood, who seems older than he actually is because he grew up in front of the cameras.

But at the age of 34, hes also moving toward the next phase of his life. He took a huge discount to return to Chicago on a one-year, 1.5 million deal. Hes set up a charitable foundation and established stronger roots in the city. He says he doesnt know how long hell want to keep pitching.

Well see how long the body holds up, Wood said. Im to the point now where I take some time off in the offseason and talk with the wife and family and reassess it and see where were at. I feel good. Right now I feel confident about next year and well go from there.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs return Chris Coghlan from DL, option Tommy La Stella to Triple-A

Cubs return Chris Coghlan from DL, option Tommy La Stella to Triple-A

The Cubs optioned Tommy La Stella to Triple-A Iowa on Friday, making room for Chris Coghlan, who was activated off the disabled list ahead of Friday’s series-opener against the Mariners at Wrigley Field.

Coghlan was the team’s starting left fielder and leadoff hitter for Friday afternoon’s contest.

Coghlan returns after a 26-day stay on the disabled list. The Cubs reacquired him this season after he played in 148 games for the team last season. In 19 games with the North Siders in 2016, Coghlan is batting .194/.356/.306 with seven hits in 45 plate appearances.

After missing nearly a month with an injury of his own, La Stella played in 13 games during the month of July. On the season, La Stella is hitting .295/.388/.457 with nine doubles, a pair of home runs and 14 runs scored.

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after 97 wins last season — committing almost $290 million to free agents — or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.

That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.

“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”

This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.

“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”

While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.

Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.

That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.

“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.

“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”

Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).

The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.

If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player — and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system — Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).

“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”

The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?

“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

The Cubs bullpen has gone from a problem area to a seemingly automatic endgame.

Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman preserved a tight lead as the Cubs beat the White Sox 3-1 Thursday night in front of 41,157 fans at Wrigley Field, evening up the season series between the two Chicago teams.

Manager Joe Maddon got to employ his best-case scenario as John Lackey accounted for six innings before Strop pitched the seventh, Rondon got two outs in the eighth and then Chapman came in for the final four outs.

"It's awesome," Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler said. "We have what they call the three-headed monster now. Those guys cut the game down."

Rondon got into a little trouble as Tyler Saladino led off the eighth with a double into the left-field corner in a one-run game, but the former Cubs closer struck out Adam Eaton and got Tim Anderson to ground out.

With Melky Cabrera — who has been swinging a hot bat — up next, Maddon came out to replace Rondon with the new 105 mph closer.

Chapman didn't even mess around with offspeed stuff, just blowing the ball right by Cabrera to end the threat.

"He's your guy and if you let that save moment get away ... it's an entirely different moment for him," Maddon said. "So definitely wanted to give him that opportunity to convert the save."

The Cubs tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth as Ben Zobrist led off with a double, advanced to third on Eaton's error and then scored on Addison Russell's ground out.

Chapman was drama-free in the ninth, retiring all three of the hitters he faced to earn his first save as a Cub.

Maddon said he talked to Chapman pregame about the possibility of a multi-inning save and then broached the topic to the All-Star closer again mid-game.

[RELATED - With Aroldis Chapman now in the fold, do Cubs have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?]

Even 37-year-old Lackey in his 14th season in the big leagues can sit by and become a spectator on the edge of his seat when Chapman comes into the game.

"It's been a cool atmosphere, for sure," Lackey said. "Playing [the White Sox] and with him coming in the game last night, that was fun to be in the dugout and check that out.

"It's definitely something you want to tune in to see, for sure."

Fowler was his classic "you go, we go" self, scoring the Cubs' first two runs against Sox ace Chris Sale — first on an RBI double from Kris Bryant on the Cubs' second batter of the game and then later on Zobrist's single up the middle in the third inning.

Lackey allowed only the one run and it came in the first inning when Tim Anderson reached on an infield single and then scored on Cabrera's double into the right-field corner.

It was Lackey's first victory since June 8, but he only threw 84 pitches and he wasn't happy about coming out of the game early.

With the Cubs' new bullpen able to cover the final three innings on most nights, the starters may not be asked to go as deep into games.

When asked about quicker hooks, Lackey said, "We'll see," before adding, "It's definitely lengthened the bullpen for sure with him at the back end. You feel good about Stroppy in the seventh inning; Ronnie as an eighth inning guy is pretty special. I can see that possibly happening."

Maddon doesn't expect his starters to like the quicker hooks, especially the ultra-competitive Lackey.

"There's nothing to sell with Johnny," Maddon said. "Maybe a six-pack. Or a 12-pack might sell. That's about the only chance I got.

"Maybe some new boots. That's all I got. I have no shot."