If you watched Andrew Cashner any time in the two seasons after he was drafted by the Cubs with their first-round pick in 2008, you'd have noticed that as he stood on the mound, his body was aligned more toward the first-base side of the field.
But on the advice of pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn this spring, Cashner is shifting more toward the third base side. That slight change is aimed at getting Cashner's breaking ball to stay more over the middle of the plate, he said.
"It starts in the inner half and finishes middle to away," Cashner explained. "If it's not something I'm comfortable with, I can move back over. It's not that big of a deal, but I think it's going to help me out. I think it's going to allow a hitter to stay on (the slider) a little longer and maybe offer at it a little earlier, and then by the time it gets out of the zone, it'll be either a groundball pitch or a swing-and-miss."
That's not the only advice Cashner has sought this spring. Widely considered the top pitching prospect in the Cubs' farm system, the right-hander has picked up some tips from one of the best in the business in Greg Maddux, a future Hall of Famer who was hired as an Assistant to the General Manager in the off-season.
Among Maddux's duties are working with the coaching staffs at major league and minor league spring training, and assisting in the development of Cubs minor leaguers such as Cashner.
"Just the knowledge that he brings to the table, I tried to stand by him most of the time during the games and just talk to him about hitters," Cashner said of Maddux. "I wouldn't really talk too much; I would just listen. I think I learned a lot just watching hitters' tendencies and pitch selection and things like that. I kept my ears open.
"There's really no perfect pitch to any hitter unless (you get them out). We were just talking about pitch selection and what would be a good pitch to which guy in which situation and what kind of swing on what kind of pitch; just different types of things that you can do based on what they've done off you on the at-bats before."
Cashner, 23, was optioned to minor league camp on March 19. He appeared in four games in big league camp, allowing two runs and four hits for a 3.60 ERA.
Entering camp, Cashner was considered a long shot for a back-end spot in the Cubs' rotation. Manager Lou Piniella said there's no reason to believe Cashner can't make an impact with the club some time this year.
"He's worked hard, he's made some improvement, and he should go down (to the minors) and dominate," Piniella told MLB.com, adding that, "As a starter, you get a chance to be out there a longer period of time and work on things. He's got a nice arm and a great future ahead of him. He's just got to improve a little."
One area where Cashner hopes to improve is cutting back on walks. He walked eight batters in five innings this season, and 42 in 100 innings a season ago.
He is scheduled to start the season back at Class AA Tennessee, where he was 3-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts covering 58 1/3 innings last season.
"I was working out with the Triple-A team at the beginning (of minor league camp) and then they told me I was going to go back to Double-A," Cashner said. "They told me to just cut down on my walks. I just have to pitch good and I think things will take care of themselves."
In addition to honing his command, Cashner has been working this spring on throwing his changeup in pressure counts and says that he's just a few "minor adjustments" away from being ready to start the season at Tennessee.
"I definitely want to be ready for the season," Cashner said. "My last outing, my command was a little off but the ball was coming out of my hand really well. I felt like, doing my bullpens, I'm almost there."
Some believe that Cashner's future is in the bullpen, but for now the Cubs still plan to develop him as a starter. His fastball has reached 97 mph as a starter, and he topped out at 100 mph in the bullpen two years ago at Class High-A Daytona.
"I thought that I had a good spring training and there's obviously things I could work on, but I was ready to get down and start getting my work in as a starter because I had a pretty good feeling I was going to be a starter again this year," Cashner said. "I'm ready to get back to starting, and to get to the big leagues this year."
Cashner has sights set on big leagues
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