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Cashner closes in on Cubs debut

Top pitching prospect Andrew Cashner was surreptitiously moved from the rotation into the bullpen for AAA Iowa today, in anticipation of a possible promotion to coincide with Carlos Zambrano’s move back to the Cubs’ rotation.

With left-hander Tom Gorzelanny expected to be the starter the Cubs move to the bullpen to make room for Zambrano, the Cubs’ pen becomes too left-handed, raising the likelihood one the lefties could be moved out (James Russell possibly being optioned to AAA) to make room for a right-hander.

The Cubs have two high-end, hard-throwing right-handers who could be ready: Cashner and Jay Jackson, who was in the Iowa bullpen until swapping AAA roles with Cashner today.

“You hate to get ahead of yourself,” Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita said when asked whether Cashner or Jackson could be promoted as part of the Zambrano move. “Tonight’s kind of a look-see. The next couple of nights, let’s just see where it takes us.”

General manager Jim Hendry said earlier in the week that Cashner was getting close to being ready for a big-league debut.

And several team officials wouldn’t rule out the likelihood of it coming in a relief role — the clearest need on the pitching staff.

Cashner, a closer for Texas Christian before the Cubs drafted him 19th overall in 2008, was 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Iowa since a recent promotion from AA Tennessee (3-1, 2.75).

He has been commanding an upper-90s fastball consistently.