Cashner is 'Lights Out'

Andrew Cashner was lights out toward the end of his professional debut season. Now he's back home just sitting with the lights out.

Hurricane Ike has left many in Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast without electricity. Ike, whose remnants have extended into the Midwest, made landfall late Friday-early Saturday in Galveston, Texas, as a strong Category 2 storm. The Cashner's, who make their home in the Conroe/Montgomery area, were not spared.

"We have a generator running our fridge and our freezer," said Andrew Cashner. "We've got a lot of friends down at our place. We probably have 15 trees down at my house. We eat outside every night and cook on the barbecue pit. If we didn't have a generator, we'd be out of luck."

In that regard, Cashner and his family are some of the lucky ones. At least 50 people in the United States have died as the result of Ike, and many who survived are currently homeless; others without basic utilities such as electricity and, in the hardest hit areas, sewerage and clean water.

In parts of neighboring Louisiana, where locals are still digging out from Ike's predecessor, Hurricane Gustav, strictly enforced curfews and beefed-up security rule communities. At some gas stations, National Guardsmen armed with rifles provide a chilling yet sober reminder that it may be awhile before things return to normal.

"They just opened up three gas stations and you're looking at about a two- to three-hour wait just to get gas," said Cashner. "They have a lot of police officers here directing traffic because all of the stop-lights are out. They're also at the gas stations making sure people stay in line.

"I went down to Port Arthur and Beaumont to help a friend that had water (damage) in their house and there are [National Guardsmen] all over there. You have to be out by 7 (P.M.) there. They're arresting people that are out and are hauling them off to Dallas if you're caught out past seven."

But if anything can free up Andrew Cashner's mind, it's his pitching.

The Cubs' first-round pick (19th overall) in the June draft wrapped up his professional debut season earlier this month by tossing six scoreless innings in the post-season to help lead the Class-A Daytona Cubs to a Florida State League championship over the Fort Myers Miracle.

Cashner got the win in the series' final game by tossing 2-2/3 shutout innings. He struck out four batters and yielded just one walk. The hard-throwing right-hander had at least three pitches clocked at 98 mph that night, said one Florida State League scout in attendance.

"He's a guy that was anywhere from 93 to 99 with a power breaking ball," said Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken. "(The breaking ball is) not a true slider; its closer to a curve. He was throwing that thing up to 87 miles per hour. He's an aggressive, intelligent kid that wants to learn and get better, and he showed he can turn it up a notch in the playoffs. That's a trait we were hoping he was going to have, but he really showed it to us in the playoffs.

"I think this was a nice way to start his career," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' Vice President of Player Personnel. "I think he'd probably be the first to tell you that he had no idea when he signed and joined (Low-A) Boise that he'd be pitching in the final game of a championship in Daytona."

Cashner was surprised by the jump, but says he didn't feel overwhelmed.

"I didn't think it was that big of a jump for me," he said. "I'd kind of struggled in the beginning at Boise, but my last four (games there) I pitched really well and was trying to get a feel for everything again."

Cashner made six appearances in Boise total and combined to go 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA and 19 walks in 16-1/3 innings. In his last three outings with the club, he allowed one earned run over 10-2/3 innings.

"He had some walks early and I understand that people are a little worried; the ones that put the stats together," Wilken said. "But you can see when it counted and as he started getting into a groove more, it was pretty special stuff."

Cashner made his Daytona League debut on Aug. 29 – a forgettable performance where he walked four and allowed four runs in 2-2/3 innings.

Cashner said he attributes some of his struggles to the rustiness caused by the layoff in between the end of his season at TCU and the start of his pro career.

"It's tough when you shut everything down and get back going," he said.

"A lot of my walks, I was barely missing. I was just trying to place the ball and make good pitches instead of just throwing it in the zone and letting them hit it," he added. "That's something I really have to work on, and a lot of it has to do with me being a little wild coming back."

Cashner noted that the zip on his fastball – clocked by one New York Yankees scout at 100 mph this past season at TCU, according to coach Jim Schlossnagle – initially took some time to return.

He spent a good portion of the summer working on the development of his changeup, which the Cubs feel has the potential to become a solid third offering in addition to his slider.

"It's something I haven't thrown a lot and something you have to get a feel for. Throwing it every day is the way to do it," Cashner said of his changeup. "Coming in as a reliever, it's tough to throw because if I come in, in a jam, I don't want to throw my changeup and get beat. I'd rather get beat on either my fastball or my slider.

"My fastball and my slider are my two best pitches. When I get into trouble, I go to my slider because it's the one pitch I can get guys out on. My changeup kind of gets put behind closed doors because I'm not going to throw my third best pitch and get beat by that. Whenever I was starting, I was using my changeup and trying to work with that."

Cashner's future as a starter or reliever is wide open. He has maintained that he'd prefer to pitch in relief (which he did exclusively at TCU), but he spent equal parts starting and relieving between Boise and Daytona.

The Cubs have said that they plan to let Cashner chart his own future role. But even if Cashner continues to start games, there may not be a lot to read into.

Wilken noted that Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins often prefers to have many top prospects start games regardless of what role they forecast for that player's future.

Right-hander Jeff Samardzija is one such example of a starter in the minor leagues that figures to pitch in relief in Chicago, at least for now.

Cashner says he'll do whatever the Cubs ask, regardless of his preference.

"They see me being a reliever on down the road, but the main reason they want me starting right now is they want me to learn how to pitch rather than throw," he said. "That makes a lot of sense because later on down the road, I'll be able to go back to something that I might not have had before, like my changeup.

"Let's say I start for two years in the minor leagues to work on my changeup and I make it to the big leagues, and as a reliever I have that third pitch that I've been working on for two years. It's something to come back to."

Cashner had been scheduled to attend the Cubs' annual Instructional League for minor leaguers in Arizona this month, but Hurricane Ike put a dent in those plans. So the next time the Cubs will see Cashner is in major league spring training next February when pitchers and catchers report.

Where Cashner begins the 2009 regular season won't be determined until next spring, but he's hoping to avoid a second stint of short-season ball that befalls many first-round draft picks.

He says it's important for him not to fall into a trap and digress back a level.

"It's big for me because this off-season is really important," said Cashner. "Right now I'm taking a break from baseball (but) I'm going to start lifting soon once we get some electricity. I'm just going to work really hard this off-season, go into big league camp and try to make an impression there. I'm going to be ready for that, I'll tell you that. Hopefully once I leave there, I'll get a shot at High-A.

"If I go back to short-season, I'll be a little disappointed."

The 6-foot-6 Cashner noted that he's put on 20 pounds since signing with the Cubs, bringing his weight up to 205 pounds. He said he'd like to add another 20 pounds to help fill out.

"I'd like to be about 220," said Cashner. "What I'm really going to work on this offseason is getting my legs strong and trying to keep them maintained to get some more power behind my pitches."

For now, the Cubs say they are thrilled with Cashner's progress after one season.

"All of the reports have been great," said Fleita. "A lot of it is just getting your feet wet and getting comfortable in the organization. What a nice way to start your career."

Said Wilken: "He totally dominated the clubs he faced (in the playoffs) … total domination."

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