Jose Ascanio on the Horizon

Jose Ascanio had already impressed the Cubs when they made a move for the hard-throwing reliever this past off-season. With a fastball that tops out in the upper 90s and a solid off-speed pitch to boot, the right-hander is on the horizon.

Ascanio, who turns 23 next month, has made eight appearances this season with Class AAA Iowa, notching 11 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings. He has recorded a strikeout in all but one game, sporting a 2.53 ERA and a .179 average against.

All of Ascanio's appearances with Iowa have come late in games, primarily in the ninth inning where he is five of six in save opportunities. The Cubs aren't necessarily grooming Ascanio as a closer, per se, but they see him becoming a strong force in late-inning situations at the big league level.

"He was a guy we were real excited to acquire in the off-season," Cubs Assistant General Manager Randy Bush said of Ascanio. "We're excited about his future and see him as an eighth or ninth inning guy down the line in Chicago when he's ready."

The Cubs got Ascanio from Atlanta last December for LHP Will Ohman and INF Omar Infante – two players with major league service time. Ascanio made his big league debut a season ago, appearing in 13 games. He was 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA.

As he went straight from Class AA Mississippi to the major leagues in 2007, this marks Ascanio's first stint at the Triple-A level.

He has handled the transition well, Iowa manager Pat Listach said.

"I saw him close last year in Mississippi," said Listach, who managed Class AA Tennessee, the Braves' counterpart in the Southern League. "Since we traded for him, I figured he could pitch late in the game because I saw him do it last year. It's a different level now, but he's (still) able to do it."

Ascanio showed off his stuff in a recent outing against the New Orleans Zephyrs on April 16. He worked a perfect ninth inning and kept hitters off-balance with a lively fastball that topped out at 94 mph, and a solid changeup that was 79-84 mph.

For his career, Ascanio has a near 2.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio in six-plus seasons. Of 167 pitches thrown this season, 114 have been for strikes.

"His big strength is command of his fastball, which our reports last year had him up to 96 (mph)," said Bush. "He's got a slider that is a developing pitch for him and he's got what is a major league-ready changeup now. So he's got two major league-ready pitches and is trying to refine his slider and get that a little bit more consistent."

Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason described Ascanio as someone who likes to pitch off his fastball and changeup, but added that his slider is becoming a quality pitch.

"He likes to go with the hard and slow of it, but he can put a guy away with a slider," said Mason. "He's got a power arm with life on the fastball. He also has a two-seam fastball that he really doesn't use when he's in this mode like he was (against New Orleans), but he can be a three-pitch guy. He's earned the (late inning) role and he's going to go after it. As long as we have him, he's going to get those opportunities."

With a bullpen that currently features right-handers Kevin Hart, Carlos Marmol and Michael Wuertz, the Cubs have begun to develop several serviceable pitchers that have transformed into effective relievers at the big league level.

Ascanio could be one of the next to join the coup.

"We really think he has a big future in Chicago," said Bush.

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