Cubs see endless ways to utilize Cahill

Right-hander's abilities make him the pitching version of Zobrist

Cubs see endless ways to utilize Cahill

PHOENIX -- The Cubs outscored the Angels, 15-1, in sweeping the season-opening two-game set, and Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester each pitched seven solid innings. Everything's set, right? Manager Joe Maddon still has some things to figure out, such as how to use Trevor Cahill, his super utility pitcher.

"Sometimes you have the same names, but the guys aren't the same," Maddon said, adding it takes about one month to get a feel for everyone's role in the bullpen.

Cahill knows to be prepared for anything. The right-hander was feeling lost last September. He had signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs on Aug. 18, then he was called up Sept. 1. Last June, he was designated for assignment for the second time in his career, this time by the Braves. Prior to joining the Cubs, Cahill had a 7.52 ERA in 15 games with Atlanta and a 1-3 record with a 6.28 ERA in six starts for the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate.

It was a big change from 2010, when Cahill was named to the American League All-Star team and posted an 18-8 record and 2.97 ERA with the Athletics.

Last Sept. 23, Cahill walked the first batter he faced in the ninth against the Brewers, and then he got a groundout. But he didn't feel right.

Cahill's scoreless appearance

"I didn't pitch that great," Cahill said. "I got one or two outs. I walked a guy. Nothing felt right, and I was confused, and like 'OK, here we go again.' He instilled that everything was good."

As Cahill sat on the dugout bench, Maddon put his hands on the pitcher's knees and looked him in the eye. The message? That Cahill could do anything -- start, relieve or close a game.

"I didn't know when I was pitching, and I think he was trying to emphasize that if we're up by two runs, I could still get outs in the seventh, eighth, ninth or whenever," Cahill said, recalling the conversation. "It might not be the ninth, but tie ballgame or something at home, it might be that kind of situation where it still feels like a save situation. He tried to emphasize that all three outs are the same, and if I can go as a starter, middle guy, end guy -- it doesn't matter."

Cahill is the Ben Zobrist of the Cubs' bullpen, and all Maddon asks is that he's prepared to do whatever is needed.

"Physically, he's able to do all those sorts of different things," Maddon said. "He has a rubber arm, great stuff, he can get out righties and lefties, he can put the ball on the ground. There's a lot of things he does well.

"With a guy like him, he has to accept that [role] as much as anything," Maddon said. "If he doesn't accept it, it makes it a lot more difficult."

Maddon saw a different pitcher this spring in Cahill, describing the right-hander as having a little smirk.

"It says he's feeling good about himself," Maddon said. "I like that -- I like that a lot."

Cahill, 28, whose Spring Training started with the birth of his daughter on Feb. 24, does feel more at ease with the Cubs and more comfortable with his role, even if it means he has to be prepared for anything.

"You're facing the same hitters, regardless of the situation," Cahill said. "When you think of it like that, it's not a big deal. I think the hardest part is just getting the whole routine down and making sure that mentally and physically, you're ready to go."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.