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Tex message: Signing paves way for Cashner to rotation

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Nobody had to tell Andrew Cashner what Kerry Wood’s surprising signing means for him.

The flame-throwing right-hander, who finished strong as a late-inning setup man during his rookie season last year, already has started throwing more changeups as he plays catch these days on his winter training program in anticipation of a chance to earn a starting job next spring.

But that might not even be the best part of Wood’s return to the Cubs for Cashner — who, like Wood, is a tall, lanky Texan with an exceptional fastball who was a first-round draft pick of the Cubs.

‘‘I’m really excited. He’s a guy I’ve been watching play my whole life,’’ said Cashner, who should expect a call from new pitching coach Mark Riggins about a pre-spring throwing program designed for a starter. ‘‘I’ve always been compared to him and always enjoyed watching him pitch, and we both have the same kind of stuff — he has better stuff. I’m looking forward to getting to pick his brain a little bit.’’

Cashner’s taking nothing for granted, and the Cubs aren’t guaranteeing him a starting job. But if he can master command of his secondary pitches at a major-league level, baseball evaluators consider him as a front-of-the-rotation prospect.

If nothing else, he figures to be the first, biggest beneficiary of Wood signing among holdover Cubs.

‘‘I can’t think of a better mentor for our young hard-throwing kid from Texas than the older hard-throwing kid from Texas,’’ general manager Jim Hendry said.

They’ll have to get better acquainted first. Their relationship so far amounts to chatting about a week ago at a charity event. But they seem to be off to a good start.

‘‘The few minutes I’ve talked to him, he’s a good kid,’’ Wood said. ‘‘He’s from Texas; he’s got to be a good kid, right?’’

Echoed Cashner: ‘‘He’s a Texan. What’s not to like?’’

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