Cashner, 25, who pitched one inning in relief for Mesa, isn't dissing the AFL or Arizona. He doesn't hate cacti or the dry heat. But to him, being in Arizona means rehab, and that means not being able to pitch for the Cubs.
"I've been out here in Arizona for a while this year, so it's definitely not a place I wanted to come," he said last week, sitting in the HoHoKam Park dugout after a bullpen session. "I didn't have a very good experience out here, just because I've been hurt. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to get some more innings here and work on some stuff I need to work on and get ready for Spring Training."
The right-hander arrived in Spring Training this year ready to go and won the fifth spot in the Cubs rotation. He made his first, and what would wind up being his only, start on April 5. He had to leave that game after 5 1/3 innings because of tightness in his right shoulder, and went on the disabled list the next day with teammate Randy Wells, who was sidelined with a strained right forearm.
Cashner was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff. He and Wells went to Arizona in early May to work out at the Cubs' Spring Training complex, but on May 16, Cashner was scratched from a scheduled start because the tightness returned. He underwent another MRI, which showed that he had aggravated the shoulder. The right-hander had to re-start his rehab.
Instead of possibly returning at the end of May, Cashner was stuck in Arizona.
"It's definitely tough coming back out here," he said last week. "I spent almost four months here this year, so it's not a place I enjoy coming to, just because of what happened here this year. But it's the Fall League, it's a fun time, a lot of good guys, and I'm looking forward to facing some of the best hitters."
On Saturday, he made his AFL debut and struck out one in one inning of relief in the Solar Sox's 5-4 loss to Salt River. The plan is for Cashner to pitch again in two days, throwing one inning, and if all goes well, get stretched out to throw two innings.
He didn't want the regular season to end. Cashner did eventually rejoin the Cubs in early September, and finished the season with 5 1/3 innings in relief -- a total of 10 2/3 innings for the season. He was pitching roughly every third day in September.
"I felt like I was throwing the ball well when I came back, and had a lot better command than I thought I would [have] of my stuff," Cashner said of his September outings. "I felt the opportunity to get more innings would benefit me.
"I'm looking forward to getting a chance to start next year," he said.
That's still to be determined. The Cubs do have holes to fill in the rotation, but will Cashner's shoulder limit him?
"I don't really know," he said. "I guess when we get a new GM and the Cubs officials talk, they'll decide what I'm going to do."
What was encouraging was how well Cashner felt after his one-inning stints with the Cubs the last month.
"I felt like I would finally get warm after that first inning and want to go back out there," he said. "They had my best interests in mind, and they were trying to protect my shoulder. I'll get some two-inning outings here [in the AFL]."
He's not limited in terms of what pitches he can throw, just restricted on pitch count. What's also a positive is how well Cashner feels. His shoulder is strong and he doesn't want to hear the word "rehab" again.
"I didn't envision this happening this year," Cashner said. "It was unfortunate, but I'm back healthy now and I feel I can contribute next year to the team, whether I'm in the bullpen or as a starter. Getting hurt is never fun, and getting hurt twice is not really what I wanted to do. I can look forward to the opportunity to come out here and play.
"Rehab is not fun, it's not supposed to be fun," he said. "I've moved past that, and I'm healthy now."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less