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updated: 9/24/2013 8:23 PM

Rizzo-Cashner contest one worth watching

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  • San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner walks off the mound yelling at himself after he allowed a run to score by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh inning of a previously scoreless baseball game Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in San Diego. The run was unearned.

      San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner walks off the mound yelling at himself after he allowed a run to score by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh inning of a previously scoreless baseball game Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in San Diego. The run was unearned.
    Associated Press

  • The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo hits an RBI single off Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Paul Maholm, scoring Starlin Castro, during the third inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Chicago.

      The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo hits an RBI single off Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Paul Maholm, scoring Starlin Castro, during the third inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Chicago.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Anthony Rizzo plot sickens as the Cubs' season mercifully fades toward winter.

It no longer is simply that the struggling first baseman is the most visible symbol on the big-league level of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime.

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No, now San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner muscled his way back into the discussion this summer.

Epstein, the Cubs' president of all things baseball, and Hoyer, the club's general manager, traded Cashner to the Padres for Rizzo on Jan. 6, 2012.

The Cubs might have had an edge in the deal entering this season because Rizzo showed signs of becoming a quality hitter and Cashner suffered from injuries.

That has changed, and not for the better for the Cubs, Rizzo and Epstein-Hoyer.

"Really for us, he's in the (Matt) Harvey, (Jose) Fernandez category," the San Diego Times-Union website quoted Dodgers manager Don Mattingly as saying of Cashner. "This guy's not a surprise anymore."

Wow! Harvey of the Mets and Fernandez of the Marlins are two of baseball's most dynamic young pitchers. Cashner is in that category? Rizzo would have to be in the Mike Trout-Bryce Harper category to measure up.

But Harvey and Fernandez, for all their early success, are still trying to establish themselves. Wait, though: San Diego catcher Rene Rivera is a former teammate of Mariners superstar Felix Hernandez.

Rivera caught Cashner for the first time this season and said, "He reminds me of Felix Hernandez when he was coming up. Hernandez gets his fastball up to 97, 98, and Cashner's 97, 98. Felix's got a curveball. Andrew's got a nice curveball and a slider, too. He's basically a similar pitcher."

Being similar to Hernandez as a pitcher is like saying a young man is similar to George Clooney as a heartthrob.

Come to think of it, right now Rizzo is closer to growing into Clooney than he is to growing into a great hitter.

A .200 batting average is known as the Mendoza Line for light-hitting former major-league shortstop Mario Mendoza. The Rizzo Line is wavering at .230, with the Cubs' first baseman alternating a bit below it and a bit above it.

A couple of good games provide encouragement that Rizzo will become all that he's expected to be, but then he looks lost at the plate again. He has demonstrated home run power but not enough to make up for his woeful batting average.

The Cubs are expected to be noncompetitive in the NL Central next year, but one competitive aspect of the season will be Rizzo vs. Cashner.

The trade can't be judged conclusively yet. At 24, Rizzo isn't Cubs first base bust Hee Seop Choi yet. And at 27, Cashner isn't Felix Hernandez yet.

Some combination of Epstein-Hoyer acquired Rizzo three times -- for the Red Sox, Padres and Cubs -- and their fascination will give him every opportunity to succeed.

Rizzo has been healthy since surviving cancer a few years ago, and Cashner has a history of lapsing onto the disabled list. So, so much of this story is yet to evolve via health, performance and whether the Cubs have young pitchers developing in their farm system.

Rizzo has time to win this trade for the Cubs even after Cashner's 3.09 ERA seems to have won this season for the Padres.

But when the pitcher is being compared to Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Felix Hernandez while the batter is trying to finish above .230 well, the early signs aren't good for the Cubs.

Regardless, Anthony Rizzo vs. Andrew Cashner should be interesting next year.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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