Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

May 2010 Archives

Cubs call up top pitching prospect Cashner

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The Cubs wasted no time getting their top pitching prospect on the roster for a road trip the team considers critical.

Or getting him his major-league debut.

Hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner was recalled from AAA Iowa today to join the Cubs' bullpen for today's series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- and made his one-pitch debut just four hours after his plane landed in Pittsburgh.

Cashner, the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2008, entered the eighth inning with two out and two on to face former Cub Ronny Cedeno with the Cubs trailing 2-1.

He threw a 95-mph fastball that Cedeno popped to short to end the inning.

Making room on the roster for Cashner, struggling reliever John Grabow was placed on the 15-day disabled list today because of inflammation in his left knee. Grabow, who is 0-3 with a 9.45 ERA, had a cortisone shot in the knee in recent weeks but continued to struggle.

Cashner was moved into the Iowa bullpen Thursday in anticipation of a possible callup this week.

``We're going to use him in the middle just to get him started, get his feet wet,'' manager Lou Piniella said, ``and hopefully he'll develop into a nice later-inning pitcher for us in the bullpen.''

The manager said he might not wait long if the former Texas Christian closer adapts quickly to the big-league role.

``Basically, we're hoping that he just takes Zambrano's spot the way we were using Zambrano,'' Piniella said.

Cashner closes in on Cubs debut

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Top pitching prospect Andrew Cashner was surreptitiously moved from the rotation into the bullpen for AAA Iowa today, in anticipation of a possible promotion to coincide with Carlos Zambrano's move back to the Cubs' rotation.

With left-hander Tom Gorzelanny expected to be the starter the Cubs move to the bullpen to make room for Zambrano, the Cubs' pen becomes too left-handed, raising the likelihood one the lefties could be moved out (James Russell possibly being optioned to AAA) to make room for a right-hander.

The Cubs have two high-end, hard-throwing right-handers who could be ready: Cashner and Jay Jackson, who was in the Iowa bullpen until swapping AAA roles with Cashner today.

``You hate to get ahead of yourself,'' Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita said when asked whether Cashner or Jackson could be promoted as part of the Zambrano move. ``Tonight's kind of a look-see. The next couple of nights, let's just see where it takes us.''

General manager Jim Hendry said earlier in the week that Cashner was getting close to being ready for a big-league debut.

And several team officials wouldn't rule out the likelihood of it coming in a relief role -- the clearest need on the pitching staff.

Cashner, a closer for Texas Christian before the Cubs drafted him 19th overall in 2008, was 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Iowa since a recent promotion from AA Tennessee (3-1, 2.75).

He has been commanding an upper-90s fastball consistently.

Cubs changing lineups, growing Castro

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The luster off the newly dawned Starlin Castro era and the Cubs riding a 1-6 slide, the lineup shakeups have begun.

Manager Lou Piniella has Kosuke Fukudome (.417 on-base percentage) in the leadoff spot, flip-flopping him with Ryan Theriot (.331 average), now batting second, and backing them up with new No. 3 hitter Marlon Byrd (.344, team-leading 22 RBIs).

Piniella said he's trying to create more hit-and-run opportunities as he waits for middle-order mainstays Derrek Lee (.211) and Aramis Ramirez (.163) to start hitting.

As for Lee - the guy who last week in Pittsburgh said he'd be surprised to be dropped from the 3 hole - he's hitting cleanup with Ramirez behind him at fifth.

``It's not hard,'' Piniella said when asked about moving around such key veterans through the lineup, adding, ``I don't know exactly what our choices are. I mean ... Soriano's been swinging the bat well [at No. 6] and we don't want to disturb that situation. Soto's doing is job nice in the seventh hole. We've got our leadoff people that are getting on base.''

And yet they've managed just three or fewer runs in those six losses over the past week. They're in the top five in the league in hitting, top four in home runs, top four in on-base percentage - but are struggling to rank sixth in the NL in runs scored.

And more importantly seem to score next to nothing when they're not scoring eight or nine.

They've scored three or fewer runs in roughly half their games (16 of 33) - two or fewer in 14 of the 33.

``Now, we're second in the league in left on base, which tells a little bit of the story,'' Piniella said. ``But, gosh, I mean, it's hard for me to believe that we can't consistently score four or more runs a game, with the people that we have here.''

So now comes the shakeups. And if the slide continues, expect more than some lineup changes.

For now, the lineup du jour:

Fukudome, Theriot, Byrd, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Soto, Castro and Wells.

As for Castro, Lou says they said all they needed to the kid about Monday's three errors after that game and that they're working more with him on applying tags after missing a couple on would-be caught-stealings Saturday and Monday.

``Everything's fine,'' he said. ``We're just going to grow with him. ... Let's not get too occupied with this. He's got a learning curve ahead of him and he's got the perfect guy in [coach Alan] Trammell and he's got [coach Ivan] DeJesus here to help him. He's got a wonderful hitting coach [Rudy Jaramillo] to work with. He'll be taken care of the right way, believe me.''

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