Andrew Cashner couldn't have been much better, or done much more, in his five-inning assignment in the Orioles' 14-1 road Grapefruit League win over the split-squad Detroit Tigers on Monday, mainly because it's March and he's building up for a long season.
The symmetry, however, was too clear to ignore.
On a day when manager Brandon Hyde spoke pregame about how in-game decisions regarding whether starting pitchers would get to face a batting order a third time when they're statistically shown to be more vulnerable, Cashner dazzled and got better as he went along while turning over the Tigers' lineup exactly twice, only to be lifted because he got up to the prescribed 75-pitch mark and the Orioles had four other pitchers scheduled for the four remaining innings.
Were that not the case, Hyde would have been faced with a conundrum that certainly haunted the Orioles last year more than most teams — whether starters should face hitters a third time in a game — and he was pretty clear on where he'd come down on it.
"All those numbers — I came from a heavy analytical team, and [was] very privy in being involved in those conversations and those discussions and why those are important," said Hyde, the former Chicago Cubs bench coach. "It opened my eyes a lot, the last four years, being there and watching us have success. I'm open to everything, and I want all the information and I want projected numbers and I want projected third-time-through-the-order stuff and I want projected splits. I want all that stuff."
That won't take general feel for factors like the game situation, the score, the rest status of the bullpen, and what he sees from his pitcher out of the equation. Cashner was absolutely cruising and, in a 6-1 game in May, would have almost certainly stayed in the game to keep going. He had the stuff to do it.
"It kind of finally all came together today," Cashner said.
After a home run by Nicholas Castellanos in the first inning, Cashner settled in. He faced the minimum 12 batters after a leadoff single in the second inning.
"I thought after that, I really commanded the four-seam both sides of the plate," Cashner said. "I thought my changeup got a lot better as the game went on, and I thought my curveball got a lot better as the game went on."
Hyde said after the game that it was the type of outing that could challenge whatever data-driven decisions he plans to make during the season.
“There's a lot of variables obviously in the third time through the order statistic, but I thought Cash was actually getting stronger as the game went on,” Hyde said. “That plays into it too. He was keeping his [velocity]. He threw a ton of four-seamers today that had hop and life at the end. Getting by guys, hitting spots. He threw the ball really well.”
Spinning a start like this — five innings, one run — 20-something times this season would make for a career renaissance season for Cashner, who pitched well for stretches in 2018 but too often remained in games to the point that it harmed his final statistics. He stopped missing bats the third time through, and opponents' OPS climbed from .862 to 1.027 between turns two and three.
Last year's Orioles starters faced batters a third time the 10th-most times in the majors, and though the 5.76 ERA in that split is flattered only by their 5.77 ERA the second time through the order, both the Orioles starters' WHIP (1.537 to 1.742) and opposing hitters' OPS (.851 to .974) increased substantially.
Hyde said that those types of statistics were some of several indicators that would dictate such decisions being made this year.
"Whether it's opponent, how you see your guys match up, how you kind of see the game plan of the game develop and who you like to see in the middle part of the game to try to get to the seventh—there's a lot of factors with that, for sure," Hyde said. "That third time through the order is definitely one."
It's always been a sensitive subject for pitchers, but Hyde believes that "there's so much written now, and so many teams use that stat as something that's important, that I think guys are very, very aware of that.”
"It's not like a surprise anymore when maybe four years ago, it would have been," Hyde said.
It will obviously be welcome when such would-be surprises don't need to happen for the Orioles. Any time after Opening Day, Monday would have been one of those days.
Cashner was as good as any Orioles pitcher all spring, save for Alex Cobb on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles had a six-run fifth inning and scored so many runs the scoreboard lost track. And the Orioles' presumed four top relievers — Nate Karns, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier, and Mychal Givens—combined for four shutout innings. The five Orioles pitchers faced three batters over the minimum, and no one reached base after the second inning.
“Great to see Mychal Givens throw the ball like that and be in there with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and really good changeups,” Hyde said. “A lot of good things from the pitching side today.
A pair of spring acquisitions — Dwight Smith Jr. and Hanser Alberto — led the way in the Orioles' 18-hit attack against the split-squad Tigers. Smith had a two-run home run to cap his three-hit day, while Alberto was one of four Orioles with multi-hit days, including catcher Chance Sisco. Infielder Zach Vincej came in as a substitute and still had two hits.
The action opened when the starters were still in the game, with Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini hitting RBI triples consecutively off Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann.
The Orioles acquired catcher Lenin Rodriguez from the Philadelphia Phillies for international signing bonus pool money Monday, the fourth such trade they've made this spring as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias uses the team's unused pool money to try and add players to the system.
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Rodriguez, 20, has played four minor league seasons while batting .263, though he hasn't yet reached full-season ball.