TORONTO — A month ago, as Orioles staring pitcher Andrew Cashner possessed a 5.04 ERA and had a start in his native Texas pushed back because of leg soreness, he didn’t rank among the most attractive options to contending teams looking for pitching help at the July 31 trade deadline.
Cashner's brilliance since — five straight quality starts, capped by seven innings of one-run ball in the Orioles' 8-1 win Saturday, with a 1.41 ERA during that stretch — has changed that. And the credit he gives his changeup for the past month-plus means it's not just the same old pitcher that's getting new results.
"I would have to just say my fastball command has been pretty good,” Cashner said. "I've done a good job of being able to command the upper part of the zone with the fastball, but I think the biggest thing is to get ahead. I think my changeup really has come along, I would say, in the last month. I've been kind of moving my fingers, kind of playing with it. There's certain times I'll try to make it go straight down, almost like a split, and certain times I try to fade it. I've just been working with [pitching coach Doug Brocail] on kind of moving around and trying new things."
During that stretch, when Cashner has gone 32 innings and allowed five earned runs on 19 hits with four walks against 18 strikeouts, opponents have hit .149 off his changeup with eight strikeouts. He's thrown the pitch 31.2% of the time. Before that, he threw it 23.2% of the time, with opponents batting .190 off it.
His past two outings represent the highest usage rates of his changeup this season, with 40% a week ago against the Cleveland Indians and 33% on Saturday. The last start where he exceeded 33.3% before this stretch was May 14, 2013, when he was with the San Diego Padres. Manager Brandon Hyde credits him with realizing it's working and sticking with it.
"I think Cash kind of did what [Dylan] Bundy did [Friday] night, where they kind of figure out if something is working, they stick with it, and if something's not working, they put it in the bag and work on it for next start," Hyde said. "The changeup is really good. It's got a ton of depth, and is getting really some bad swings on it. When he sees that, he continues to throw it. It makes that 95 [mph fastball] even harder."
Said Cashner: "I think it's commanding the fastball. Everything starts off the fastball, and you make it look like a fastball, sell it with hand speed. But I think it's just been a big pitch for me, anytime, any count."
Bumping up his usage rate on the changeup has coincided with a stretch that statistically has Cashner as the best starter in the American League since June 1. His 1.41 ERA was the best in the league in that stretch. No one in the league had a better WHIP than Cashner’s 0.718 in that stretch either.
All of his stats are aided by the fact that he hasn't given up a home run since May 31. But this iteration of Cashner, plus the fact that he'll be owed just the remainder of the $8 million he's being paid this year, mean he's pitching himself into becoming a deadline target for a team looking for a consistent starter.
There are, however, what can amount to several million dollars in bonuses beginning when he reaches the 20-start plateau and the 110-inning mark. That could make a trade more complicated, but the financials and the return can be worked out with a pair of motivated teams. It's unclear just how deep in sell mode the Orioles will go, but with Cashner pitching this way entering the All-Star break, there's certainly going to be more motivation to dig into his performance and see if he can help contending teams.
"It's about command in this league," Hyde said. "He's a veteran guy who has it."
Brooks to join after break
Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who was claimed off waivers on Saturday from the Oakland Athletics, will join the team after the All-Star break, Hyde said, though it’s unclear what his role will be.
“He pretty much dominated us in Baltimore that one start when he was with the A’s, and out of the ’pen a few weeks ago in Oakland, too,” Hyde said. “It's a heavy sinker, and a breaking ball. Competitive guy that has really good stuff. I love the fact that we have him, and I hope he pitches well for us in the second half.”
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In a move that’s likely related to Brooks joining up with the team after the break, the Orioles optioned reliever David Hess to Triple-A Norfolk after Sunday’s game. Hess didn’t pitch Saturday or Sunday after he was recalled from Norfolk this weekend.