The Orioles defeat the Yankees, 5-2, in the series opener. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
Andrew Cashner is not a one-way Harry, manager Buck Showalter warned this spring as the Orioles' February free-agent signing cruised through the Grapefruit League with his sinker up in the zone for strikes and down in the zone for groundouts.
After his sinker yielded three home runs in his Orioles debut last weekend, the hope was that Showalter was right, and Cashner would be able to dip into his five-pitch mix to give the Orioles a better outing Thursday night against the New York Yankees and beyond.
With the stewardship of Chance Sisco behind the plate, he did just that. Cashner, it turns out, has quite a cutter, and he used it to hold the high-flying Yankees offense to one hit before he went back to the well once too often and saw one fly out to right field for a home run by right fielder Aaron Judge in the sixth inning.
"I think for the most part I was trying to drive through the catcher tonight, more than anything," Cashner said. "The biggest thing is I had a lot better slider tonight than I did the first night. … I think [I was] just getting out in front with it, just trusting it more than anything and just throwing the piss out of it."
Said manager Buck Showalter: "Cash was solid, man. That was impressive. That's good to see. You know you're going to need it."
Judge's home run broke a 0-0 tie and spoiled for Cashner what had been a fine second start with the Orioles, though he ultimately left with a 5-1 advantage thanks to center fielder Adam Jones' third home run of the season, which sparked a five-run seventh inning. To that point, Cashner's cutter had yielded the bulk of his outs.
His began the day by striking out center fielder Brett Gardner swinging — and in his first start at Yankee Stadium, keeping the ball as a souvenir. A clean first inning gave way to a shaky second, in which he issued two four-pitch walks around a towering fly ball to left field before getting out of the jam with a double play from designated hitter Tyler Austin on a low cutter.
Manny Machado was made to talk about his future as the Orioles visited Yankee Stadium for the first time in 2018. One thing the prospective free agent made clear: He doesn't plan to move off shortstop.
The Yankees' only hit before Judge's home run was a leadoff double in the third inning by Tyler second baseman Tyler Wade, but third baseman Miguel Andújar grounded out on a cutter, Gardner struck out again and Judge lined a cutter to right field for the final out.
From then on, the only Yankee to reach was shortstop Didi Gregorius, who walked but was thrown out trying to swipe second base by Sisco to end the fourth. It was Sisco's first major league caught-stealing.
The strikeouts came in bulk for Cashner in the fifth and sixth inning, with two swinging on sliders and a third on a fastball looking. But after jamming Judge with cutters to get him to line out to right field in his first two at-bats, Cashner left one on the outer half of the plate and saw the towering Yankees slugger get full extension and drive it 395 feet out to left field.
Cashner departed after six innings having allowed a run on two hits with five strikeouts and three walks on 100 pitches, posting his first quality start with the Orioles. In doing so, he nearly doubled his slider usage from the first start — from 12.7 percent to 23 percent — and recorded 10 of his 18 outs on the pitch, according to Statcast.
It was his highest cutter-rate since May 17 with the Texas Rangers, when he used the pitch 24.7 percent of the time against the Philadelphia Phillies. The pitch evolved from a slider into a cutter for the 2017 season, and Cashner held opponents to a .238 average on the pitch, according to BrooksBaseball.
On a windy, cold night at Yankee Stadium, his contact-oriented approach won him fans in the Orioles clubhouse.
"What he did was awesome," Jones said. "He used the defense and kept us in the game. I know he gave up a solo to big guy Judge, but a solo home run. Kept us in the game. It wasn't a three-run homer. He just attacked them and used the defense. I tip my cap to him. He went out there and battled his tail off and kept us in the game so that we had a shot to bite at them."