Mooney: The year of the rookies

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Mooney: The year of the rookies

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010
3:21 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Andrew Cashner had faced Buster Posey before in the Arizona Fall League, the training ground for elite prospects, though the San Francisco Giants rookie had no recollection.

The Cubs reliever also remembered seeing Posey in spring training but one at-bat will stick out -- especially if the Giants make a deep postseason run and the catcher is voted Rookie of the Year -- from Sept. 21 at Wrigley Field.

In the eighth inning of a scoreless game the Giants desperately needed, Posey smashed Cashner's 96 mph fastball and when it landed it ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batter's eye in center field.

After that 1-0 loss Cashner -- who's been accountable ever since his big-league debut on Memorial Day -- could be found at his locker.

Cashner said he simply got beat on that home run. And if the Cubs keep him on this path -- by Game 161 he hadn't heard anything about whether they want to use him as a starter or reliever next season -- there will be more nights like that.

From top to bottom, Cashner never felt like the organization lost faith in him, but he also viewed the final six weeks of this season as a chance to make next year-s team. From Aug. 23 on -- the day Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella -- Cashner posted a 1.40 ERA in his last 18 games, limiting opponents to a .203 average.

"For somebody who throws so hard, (his) command is amazing," pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I dream on my best day to throw the ball where I want it like that. And he does it at 100 mph and it's so easy. (His) delivery (is) smooth and he gets downhill.

"He's got (an) electric arm and he's got a chance to be really special. God gave him a pretty cool thing on the right side of his body."

Across the country, this has been the year of the rookie. Washington Nationals prodigy Stephen Strasburg made baseball relevant in the nation's capital -- until he needed elbow-reconstruction surgery.

Imported from Cuba at a cost of more than 30 million, Aroldis Chapman could be a game-changer for the Cincinnati Reds this postseason with velocity that reaches higher than 100 mph.

When the Atlanta Braves open their best-of-five series Thursday night at AT&T Park by the San Francisco Bay, you'll be able to watch the two National League rookies most likely to win the award.

While handling one of the best pitching staffs in the game, the 23-year-old Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in only 108 games.

On Opening Day Jason Heyward homered in his first major-league at-bat, a three-run bomb off Carlos Zambrano that sent the 53,081 fans at Turner Field into a tomahawk-chopping frenzy.

Heyward, who celebrated his 21st birthday this summer, kept producing, hitting .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBI and a .393 on-base percentage.

For months, that 16-5 loss to the Braves on April 5 seemed like all you needed to know about the 2010 Cubs. An erratic Zambrano got only four outs. An unreliable bullpen gave up eight more runs. A defense that would finish tied for last in the league in fielding percentage (.979) committed two errors.

The young players would be unpredictable. Tyler Colvin hit 20 home runs -- with 100 strikeouts -- in 358 at-bats before the shattered piece of a maple bat stabbed his chest.

Shortstop Starlin Castro committed 27 errors -- second-most in the majors -- but also became the first Cubs rookie to hit .300 since Bill Madlock in 1974. For the Cubs to get back to the playoffs, they will need to see growth.

"You got to be aware (that) next year is a tough year for them," hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "That sophomore jinx, (whatever) you want to call it -- they can overcome it mentally, but it's part (of) baseball. It's been there all the time and we'll see how those kids react."

For a moment during his state-of-the-team address before the final home game at Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts sounded less like an investment banker and more like an advance scout who had spent too many nights on the road at Marriott hotels.

"Look at the guys that have contributed up here," Ricketts said in acknowledging an otherwise disappointing season. "The Castros, the Colvins, the Cashners."

Cashner, who turned 24 last month, spent the final weekend of the season in Houston, about 45 minutes from where he grew up. The Texan loves hunting and fishing, but still planned to return to Chicago for a few more days. The former first-round pick couldn't see paying all that money for his apartment and not staying there until the lease expired.

That is where Cashner finds himself this offseason, thinking he hasn't made it yet, but knowing that he belongs.

"(It's) just a lot of confidence," Cashner said the night Posey took him deep. "I'm going after guys. I don't care anymore -- here it is."

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

Miguel Montero drops truth bomb, throws Jake Arrieta under the bus after Nationals run wild

Miguel Montero drops truth bomb, throws Jake Arrieta under the bus after Nationals run wild

WASHINGTON — Within 24 hours, the Cubs followed up maybe their best win of the season with one of their ugliest losses and a classic Miguel Montero rant. Next stop: The Trump White House.

Montero walked across the room late Tuesday night with towels across his waist and over his shoulders and didn’t even bother to change into his clothes before calling the reporters over to his locker after a 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Montero dropped a truth bomb in the middle of the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, calling out Jake Arrieta without directly mentioning his name and talking in the third person after Washington stole seven bases in four innings.

“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.

“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”

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Now 0-for-31 in that department this season, Montero namedropped Jason Hammel — the ex-Cub now pitching for the Kansas City Royals — to show the de-emphasis on holding runners.

“We talk every year in spring training, but it’s frustrating, because it seems nobody really cares about it,” Montero said. “Like: ‘OK, yeah, I got to pitch. And if they run, they run, I don’t care.’

“Perfect example: We got Salvador Perez, the best throwing catcher in the game, and Jason Hammel’s got 10 stolen bases and only one caught stealing, so what does that tell you? They didn’t give him a chance.”

Cubs vs. Nationals makes it obvious: Jake Arrieta is no Max Scherzer

Cubs vs. Nationals makes it obvious: Jake Arrieta is no Max Scherzer

WASHINGTON — Super-agent Scott Boras drove the Max Scherzer comparisons through the media, trying to frame Jake Arrieta’s Cy Young Award pedigree and pitching odometer against that seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Every inning in each Arrieta start shouldn’t be viewed like a stock ticker, but it became the impossible-to-miss backdrop on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, where Scherzer stared down the Cubs through his blue and brown eyes and dominated in a 6-1 game that didn’t have that same October energy.

Where Scherzer is headed toward his fifth straight All-Star selection, the Cubs can only guess what they will get out of Arrieta from one start to the next, which makes you wonder: How many teams would commit five or six years to an over-30 pitcher like that?

Coming off probably the team’s best win of the season the night before — and a strong last start at Marlins Park where he felt “really close” to where he wanted to be — Arrieta walked off the mound with no outs and two runners on in the fifth inning.

The Nationals ran wild, putting pressure on the Cubs and stealing seven bases off Arrieta and catcher Miguel Montero. Arrieta’s control vanished, walking six batters and throwing a wild pitch. The defense collapsed, with second baseman Tommy La Stella leading Anthony Rizzo off first base with one throw and Montero chucking another ball into left field.

Halfway through his platform season, Arrieta is 7-6 with a 4.67 ERA after giving up six runs (five earned) and losing this marquee matchup against Scherzer and the first-place Nationals (46-31).

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The Cubs (39-38) felt the whiplash effect from Scherzer’s violent delivery, the perfect game gone when he drilled leadoff guy Rizzo with a 95-mph fastball and the no-hitter over in the first inning when Kris Bryant knocked an RBI triple off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field.

None of it rattled Scherzer (9-5, 2.06 ERA), who gave up one more hit and zero walks across six innings. This is the third-fastest pitcher in major-league history to reach 2,000 strikeouts, a favorite to win his third Cy Young Award this year and the Game 1 starter the Cubs would face if they make it back to Washington for a first-round playoff series.

“It starts with his delivery and deception,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think there’s a lot of intimidation, based on how he just delivers the baseball and the angle that he throws from, the ability to ride a fastball. I think the big thing, too, is the changeup has gotten devastatingly good.

“He’s an uncomfortable at-bat, just based on the way he winds up and throws the baseball. And then the stuff just moves so darn much. It’s a unique combination of factors that he has. He’s so strong and he pitches so deeply into games — and he does it consistently well for years. He’s just a different animal.”

That makes the Max comparison so untenable for Arrieta, who lost to Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers during his final start for the Baltimore Orioles on June 17, 2013. Arrieta immediately got shipped down to Triple-A Norfolk and traded to the Cubs 15 days later in a deal that would change baseball history forever.

Boras is right when he calls that the defining struggle of Arrieta’s career and says it took “World Series cojones” to handle that pressure. But just like Arrieta’s contract year, the Cubs are now in the great unknown.