Cashner keeps his grip on Cubs rotation

Cashner keeps his grip on Cubs rotation
March 22, 2011, 2:45 am
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Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted 9:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney

TEMPE, Ariz. It was cold, wet and windy, the conditions that Andrew Cashner will encounter at some point this season at Wrigley Field.

Cashner convinced the Cubs front office that he deserved a spot on the major-league roster with the way he finished last season, posting a 1.40 ERA in his final 18 games. But its unlikely that hes going to Chicago as a bullpen piece.

Maybe this was Cashners last chance to make an impression before manager Mike Quade, general manager Jim Hendry and their lieutenants meet Tuesday to make more personnel decisions.

But opinions began forming years ago on Cashner, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Cubs believe he can become a front-line starter, and that projection probably trumps everything else.

On a gray Monday afternoon at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Cashners start was washed out and the game canceled with the Cubs leading the Angels 7-4 in the top of the fourth inning.

Cashner lost his grip on a few sliders and allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks across three innings. But its difficult to see him slipping away from the rotation.

Ive thrown the ball well this whole spring, Cashner said. Whatever decision they come up with, thats what Im going to do. Ive given it my best shot and I could have pitched better, but I thought I pitched well enough. So well see what happens.

Cashner hasnt dominated like Randy Wells (1.35 ERA), who accepted the challenge and seemingly established himself as the fourth starter. But the 24-year-old also hasnt been overwhelmed like Carlos Silva (15.88 ERA).

That, in essence, is the steady Cashner, who doesnt get very high or very low.

Theres so much I like about his poise, his calmness, Quade said. The stuff is there.

Its just a matter of being consistent. Cashners trying to get the feel back for his changeup, which he didnt use much out of the bullpen last year. The Cubs think it is major-league ready.

Cashner will also have to harness a fastball that runs close to 100 mph. He has to mix in three pitches for six, seven innings at a time, instead of the three batters hed face last season.

In five Cactus League appearances, Cashner still hasnt stretched out beyond four innings yet, and the Cubs will be monitoring his pitch counts to see just how deep he can work into games.

After Cashner struggled with his grip and a few sliders drifted out of the zone, he spoke with Greg Maddux, the front-office assistant who watches in uniform from the dugout and has become another set of trusted eyes.

Cashner felt like he was getting ahead of hitters, but couldnt finish them off.

I got 0-2 (and) strike one on a lot of guys and I just didnt make that pitch that I needed to, Cashner said. Thats what (I) talked to Maddux about. Hes just like: You dont have to be great, just be good.

That just about sums it up. Cashner didnt have to be perfect or pitch like a Cy Young winner this spring to get the job. The weight of the franchise isnt on his shoulders. Right now all the Cubs need is a reliable fifth starter, while hoping he becomes much more than that in the future.

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