Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner talks about his first spring training start. (Eduardo Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles’ first glimpse of Andrew Cashner pitching in a Grapefruit League game this spring offered much of what was advertised when the team signed the veteran right-hander to anchor their starting rotation rebuild.
After making his first two spring appearances under stress-free conditions in simulated games on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex, he took the main field for the first time in Sunday’s split-squad home nightcap against the Philadelphia Phillies. Cashner was excited to experience real-game atmosphere, under the lights, with a sellout crowd on hand and a TV audience watching in Baltimore, but said that’s not unusual for him.
“I’m always amped up,” Cashner said. “I love this [stuff].”
In becoming the first Orioles pitcher to complete four innings this spring, Cashner was in control throughout, allowing just one hit — a weak infield single by former Oriole Pedro Florimón — while holding the Phillies scoreless. Cashner threw 60 pitches, 37 of them strikes.
“With the schedule he’s been on with the sim games, he was good, stayed [at] 60 in what four innings?” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “The first time in an ‘A' game, but that was as good as you’d hope. He got a chance to use all his pitches. He saw a good lineup.”
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Cashner’s reputation of being a ground-ball artist — he has a career 49 percent ground-ball rate — played to form.
He induced six groundouts, forcing weak contact by working both sides of the plate with his sinker and slider, but also missed bats when he needed to by adding two swinging strikeouts.
“I think part of my game plan is to pitch up with my fastball,” Cashner said. “High sinkers are really hard to hit, but you know I think it’s [about] keeping the ball down, getting the strikes early and finishing them up late. That’s definitely kind of my game plan.”
Showalter was pleased with the outing, noting that Cashner mixed his pitches effectively, even getting swing and misses off his changeup and curveball.
“I think that’s why he’s been attractive throughout the years, because he just keeps coming at you,” Showalter said. “You can see today, he’s a lot more than a thrower. He mixed in a lot of pitches, slowed them down when he needed to.”
Cashner walked three, including Carlos Santana twice, but none of those free passes hurt him.
“I think for me it’s more about pitch execution than results,” Cashner said. “I mean, the results are always nice. I’m more interested in what I’m executing and when I’m not. … There are some things I need to work on, but overall, anytime you have zeros, you can never be mad.”
He benefited from his defense early. After walking Santana on seven pitches to open the first inning, right fielder Craig Gentry made a sliding catch on Aaron Altherr’s tailing fly ball down the line, then threw to first to double up Santana.
“That was a big play,” Cashner said. “I thought that ball was out when he hit. It was a mistake by me. Fortunately, it stayed up, middle away, put a good swing on it. That’s a speedy outfielder, so that’s nice to have.”
The Phillies’ only hit off Cashner came when Florimón nubbed a ball that died on the infield grass in front of second baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose throw to first was too late to get Florimón.
After striking out Cameron Rupp and inducing a groundout to shortstop Manny Machado off the bat of pitcher Nick Pivetta to move Florimón to third, Cashner walked former Oriole Ryan Flaherty on four pitches. But after Flaherty stole second, Cashner stranded two runners in scoring position with Rhys Hoskins’ inning-ending flyout to center.
Cashner will next pitch in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets, but Showalter said that he will likely pitch in a minor-league game before the exhibition season is over as he keeps some of his starters away from AL East competition and the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles’ first regular season opponent.