The long road back for Wood and Cashner

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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.

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