SAN DIEGO -- After the Cubs' season ends on Wednesday, Andrew Cashner will begin the second phase of his 2011 season next week, when he joins the Arizona Fall League as a reliever.
Cashner, sidelined most of the year because of a strained right rotator cuff sustained after his first start on April 5, has been limited to a relief role since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 5.
The plan in the AFL, which gets underway Oct. 4, is for Cashner to continue to pitch in relief. He will be limited as far as his pitch count, but may also throw up to two innings per outing, Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins said on Tuesday.
Can Cashner start again?
"I think he can," Riggins said. "If he does start, we have to watch the number of innings. Medically, there is a certain amount of innings that you can jump up to before you run into some danger with stress on the arm. So you kind of have to build up from year to year the number of innings."
While Cashner continues to build up arm strength and get work in with the Mesa Solar Sox, where he fits in the Cubs' pitching plans in 2012 is still to be determined. Riggins said once the new Cubs general manager is hired, he will sit down with the medical staff and decide what's best for the right-hander.
"Right now, we're just hoping he has a great fall league," Riggins said. "I don't think starting is out of the question. It's just, what's best for him."
The Cubs' first-round pick in 2008, Cashner has a 1.86 ERA in six games. Maybe he's better suited to pitching in relief? Maybe he could be the closer some day?
"Eventually, he could be," Riggins said. "He has the ability for that -- plus his stuff, his composure on the mound, he throws strikes, he has command of three pitches. It's not out of the question that he could do that at some point in his career. The thing about a closer is they don't step in there and be a closer right away. It's an earned spot on a staff. That's in the future for us."