Cashner Living Up To the Hype

Andrew Cashner (SMOKIES/ELIZABETH NEUTENS)

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – There was quite a buzz around Smokies Park when rumors of Andrew Cashner's promotion started slipping through the cracks on June 29. Twenty-four hours later, the Cubs' 2008 first round draft pick was on his way to Double-A to take the next step in his young career.

"They told me after a series in Fort Myers that I was going to be able to drive so I just went home, packed all my stuff and left the next day," Cashner recalled.

Surprisingly, Cashner has started sixteen minor league games (including four with the Smokies) and has only recorded one decision, a 6-3 loss to the Montgomery Biscuits on July 9 in a game in which he did not give up an earned run.

He has accumulated 61.2 innings this season and a 1.46 ERA; just 1.37 in Double-A.

"The biggest thing is that I haven't really worked as deep into games as I could," Cashner says. "In the Florida State League, if I had gone five innings, I could have been like 9-0. But my pitch count struggled a little bit. The one five-inning game I had, we lost the game in the ninth. I had a few other games with rain delays and stuff like that, but it will come; it's just something that takes progress.

"It's a little frustrating, but I'm just kind of taking it one day at a time and just trying to work and get better."

Cashner is getting better. He is on a plan to stretch his pitch counts out and pitch deeper into games. His hard work is starting to show.

"I was on 60-65 (pitches) in Daytona and then got moved up and I think my last start there was 75 and then here I think its 80 or 85. I threw 82 [last Tuesday] so that was a good start to keep progressing forward."

Cashner uses his 6-foot-6 frame to throw a four-seam fastball that has reached as high as 99 mph, but he's working on perfecting a full arsenal of pitches at Tennessee.

"I just started throwing my sinker a little bit more. I try to really locate that with men on first or second to try and get ground balls," Cashner said. "I've been kind of struggling a little bit with my slider.

"My changeup is probably the biggest progression that I've made as far as throwing it for strikes and getting guys to swing and miss. It's really helped me out with left handed batters."

Cashner has noticed a change in his transition to Double-A, but it hasn't been anything that's slowed his success.

"The strike zone is a little tighter and I've still just been working on cutting down on my walks. I'm trying to pitch a little more to contact and get some ground balls. I think I've adjusted OK. I've been throwing my changeup more and that's been helping me out," Cashner said.

Sticking with his pre-game routine has been a constant for Cashner, whether he's pitching in Florida or Tennessee.

"I just try to stay real relaxed. I try not to get too overworked and I try to take it easy. As soon as I start running, that's when I start locking in. As soon as I start my bullpen, I try to really lock in and concentrate and then I go in the dugout for five minutes to relax and take it easy. Then when I go out on the mound, I get back in the mode of concentration," Cashner says.

Keeping the ball down in the zone and working both sides of the plate are two things that Cashner most attributes to his ongoing success in Tennessee.

But focusing on the little things is what keeps Cashner's head in the game.

"My goal is to just have consistent starts. My biggest goal is to always take steps forward and not take any steps backwards," Cashner said. "I'm not so much concerned with the result as far as runs and stuff like that, but the result of making quality pitches in hitter's counts and throwing off-speed in hitter's counts. I just have little small goals for myself."

As for the pressure that comes with being a first-round selection, Cashner just shakes it off.

"I think you go out there and do what you can do and control what you can control. There is only so many things that I can control whenever I'm out there. That's really what I've tried to work on this season," Cashner said.

Smokies pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn said Cashner is developing in all aspects of his game.

"He's throwing three pitches over the plate. He's got a plus fastball, he's got a pretty good slider and he's developing a good changeup," Lewallyn says. "He seems to be very aggressive attacking the strike zone. He's doing a good job so far.

"He's got a good live arm," Lewallyn added. "He's kind of young as far as pitchers go. He's got a good live arm and he's all ears. He's willing to listen and learn."

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