Detroit Tigers (5-2) at San Diego Padres (3-6)
Time/Place: 10:10 p.m., Petco Park
SB Nation blog: Gaslamp Ball
Andrew Cashner has been on the radar of many diehard baseball fans and sabermetric enthusiasts for the past couple seasons, but is still virtually unknown to the mainstream. Unless you watch MLB.TV as much as I do or tuned in to the Padres' home opener on ESPN a few weeks ago, you probably don't think much* of his 3.09 ERA and 3.35 FIP from 2013. However, it's how he got there -- and how he ended the season -- that should have your attention.
Cashner struggled with injury issues throughout his minor league career and missed a great deal of the 2011 season due to a shoulder injury. He logged 46 1/3 innings in relief in 2012, and began 2013 in the bullpen as well. He was given a full-time starting role in late April and logged a 3.80 ERA and 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings leading up to the All-Star break. After the All-Star break, Cashner went into beast mode. He allowed a 2.14 ERA and 3.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 starts, including the one-hit shutout that Darklighter mentioned in yesterday's Q&A with Gaslamp Ball.
The main reason why Cashner was able to start dominating is because of increased use of a devastating slider. The world will never know why he was only throwing this pitch 3% of the time before the All-Star break, but he bumped up to 22.8% in the second half and the results speak for themselves. This came at the expense of his curveball, which was decent, but not the plus-plus strikeout pitch that the slider is. He throws his changeup to both right-handers and left-handers, though lefties handled it much better in 2013. Oh, and he also throws a mid-90s fastball that topped out at 98 miles per hour last year.
The first inning of Rick Porcello's first start of the season did nothing to alleviate concerns of the portion of the fanbase that has wanted him off the roster for five years. Porcello allowed a walk, a stolen base, and a single to give the Baltimore Orioles an early lead. After that, the Porcello of late 2013 returned, and he held the Orioles to just two hits and a walk over the next 5 2/3 innings. He was a ground ball monster, tallying 11 of the 20 outs he recorded via groundouts. His biggest asset in that start was getting ahead, throwing first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 batters he faced.
*This is also because we are insanely spoiled when it comes to starting pitchers. True story: I watched Stephen Strasburg strike out 12 in 6 2/3 innings yesterday, and when the announcers called it a "gem" at the end of the game I immediately blurted out (to no one in particular) "He didn't even go seven innings!"
Hitter to fear: Seth Smith (.571/.625/1.000 in 8 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: N/A
Smith is the only Padres hitter that Porcello has ever faced, and he has gotten his money's worth. He has four hits, including a double and a triple, in seven at-bats with an RBI and a walk. The two have not faced one another since 2012. So, impress your friends! Tell them that Rick Porcello has held everyone else on the Padres' roster hitless in his five-year career.
On the Tigers' side, Alex Gonzalez is 1-for-1 against Cashner. That's all, which tends to happen when you haven't faced a team since 2008.
With a potentially dominant starter on the mound and a spacious venue in front of them, the Tigers' home run streak may be in jeopardy tonight. Petco Park was not quite as stingy when the fences were moved in prior to the 2013 season -- amazing how that works -- but it is still one of the largest ballparks in baseball. In order to be successful against Cashner, the Tigers will need to avoid getting behind in the count. Cashner is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher with two strikes, and the slider is all but unhittable when it is on. The Padres' bullpen is good, but not as good as the ace of the staff. Make Cashner work, get to the bullpen, and don't bring Bad Rick Porcello to the ballpark.
Lots of zeros, with the Tigers pushing across a late run for the W.