On Sunday for his first spring start, Cashner threw eleven pitches for eleven strikes. While still in ramp up stage, and taking spring training results with a grain of salt, the timing of Cashner’s start nonetheless bodes well for the Padres. As a power pitcher, such an outcome should boost Cashner’s confidence as well as add a new wrinkle to Padre’s starting rotation competition. In a short role, Cashner can light up the radar gun, with speeds reaching up to 103 MPH as displayed on the Petco Park outfield display board. In a starting role, Cashner can regularly light up around 96-98 MPH. His change up in terms of velo alone can compete with the fastballs of many other pitchers. It is for that potential and upside that makes Padre fans and brass salivate at the possibilities.
From the main Padres.com site, Darren Balsley speaks about Cashner, as well as Tyson Ross as candidates for the 4th and 5th slots. Balsley clarifies that Cashner is only about 2 weeks behind the rest of the starters, stating that “there’s nothing wrong with his thumb anymore. His hand feels great.” Essentially isolating the injury from arm issues and clarifying the scope of injury. Balsley further comments that “if we need to get him ready, if he lands a spot in the rotation, we can in my opinion by the start of the season.” Balsley even goes as far as citing that he felt with the age factor that Cashner “deserves” to start, but leaves the bullpen option open. It seems clear that Cashner is a lock for the team regardless, although a tune-up start in the minors may not be out of the question to maintain Cashner’s stamina and rhythm in the long role.
The Padres open this year on the road in New York against the Mets on April 1st. This means, that the fifth starter role ostensibly does not pitch until April 6th on a Saturday, giving Cashner almost another week to prepare. Now, if you really want to maximize appearances for the top of the line starters - consider that the Padres have off days on both the 2nd and 8th of April. With those rest days in place, that Padres have the option of rotating the 1-4 starters and skipping the 5th starter a few more extra days. Balsley and Buddy Black are very experienced with pitchers and Black’s pitching background will enable him to make the best decision for the team here, but that is a viable option. The thing to remember is that a win in April counts the same in the Win-Loss column, as much as it does in September. It is imperative that the Padres get a good start to the season, and that is a necessary outcome for the Padres to compete with the heavily stocked NL West.
This is one edge that the Padres do have against the new Yankees West, or Dodgers, a chance for a strong start. With their almost absurd payroll expansion(note I am not overly biased – I did project the Dodgers to end up with 90+ wins), you can’t help but hate the Dodgers. The Padres do have an advantage against their foes in the area of chemistry. With the Dodgers essentially buying a new roster from their moves at the end of last season and into this offseason, comes the need to balance the big contract egos and establish chemistry that can only naturally occur and not be forced. See 2012 Miami Marlins. They haven’t had their time to gel together yet, and it is possible that the Dodgers start the season slowly. Speaking of the Dodgers, I bet Aaron Harang is realizing that he signed a Faustian bargain by choosing money and the Dodgers. A decent season later, he is essentially out of a job.
The Padres organization has been a class act for players, specializing in communication and openness. That factors into why so many aspiring pitchers clamor to Petco Park, beyond the spacious gaps and proximity to the water. The Padres have always been fair, albeit budget contrained. A less aggressive tactic could be that Padres open up the fifth starter role to one of the pitchers that performed well in the Spring Training competition, before handing it back to Cashner for the 2nd time around. Balsley also talks about Tyson Ross and speaks well of his performance and his maturity and poise beyond his years. However, I think his comments about his age and youth, as well as having much to learn - speak to a strong possibility he ends up in the minors. Wouldn’t it be classy of the Padres to give him a start before handing the relay baton to Cashner for the season?