Cashner puts struggles in rearview, preps for 2016

Rebound season for Padres' No. 3 starter is pivotal to club's success

Cashner puts struggles in rearview, preps for 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Andrew Cashner isn't going to make excuses about his rocky 2015 season. That's mostly because he's done talking about the 2015 season altogether.

"It was just a bad year," said Cashner, the flame-throwing right-hander whose performance in 2016 will be pivotal for the Padres. "I've been talking about this all offseason. I'm done. It's a new year. I'm feeling good. My breaking ball is good. My sinker is back to where it used to be. I'm locating my fastball. That's all I need to do."

No one questions Cashner's stuff. But his career -- for a variety of reasons -- hasn't gone as smoothly as his talent would seem to predict.

The hulking bearded Texan was very good in 2013 and '14, posting a 2.87 ERA in those seasons. But both campaigns were cut short -- '13 because of an innings limit and '14 because of elbow and shoulder injuries.

In 2015, Cashner exceeded 30 starts for the first time, but he never found the same groove. Part of that can be easily attributed to unearned runs -- Cashner allowed 22 of them, nine more than anybody else in the Majors. But pitching coach Darren Balsley thinks the bad luck ran deeper than that.

"A lot of what happened to Andrew last year was misfortune," Balsley said. "There were balls being hit to holes that in past years weren't finding holes. Things kind of snowballed on him a little bit.

"Obviously, he didn't pitch as well as he could have. But I'm not going to lie and say his stuff wasn't good or his command wasn't good."

There might be no player more pivotal to the Padres' success in 2016 than Cashner. He enters the season as the club's third starter, and -- when he's at his best -- there aren't many No. 3 starters in baseball who are better.

"The fresh start is going to mean everything to him," Balsley said. "He stayed healthy last year and made all his starts. There was no point at which he quit, by any means. But he exhaled at the end of the season, knowing, 'Hey, I can start fresh.'"

Cashner on his start

Cashner routinely hits the mid-90s with both his fastball and his sinker, and he induced ground balls at a 47.4 percent clip last season. If nothing else, Cashner's bottom line should get a boost from the Padres' improved infield defense (with Alexei Ramirez at short and Cory Spangenberg taking over full-time at second).

Cashner's 2016 production may be as important to his wallet as it is to the Padres. He is set to become a free agent after the season and he could set himself up for a nice payday with a big year.

Then again, he's probably in line to get paid anyway, with starting pitching costs skyrocketing. Ian Kennedy and Jeff Samardzija both struggled mightily in 2015, but they were compensated handsomely nonetheless.

"The results weren't great [last year], but there were two players that finished worse than me and one got $70 [million] and one got $90 [million]," Cashner said. "Just go out there and make all your starts. The biggest thing I need to worry about is taking the ball every fifth day and giving my team the best chance to win."

Problem is, Cashner's team hasn't always given him the best chance to win -- whether the lack of run support in 2013-14 or the defense in '15.

But Cashner isn't discussing those seasons. It's 2016 -- the only year that matters in Cashner's eyes.

"It's not about what you've done," Cashner said. "It's about what you're doing right now in this game. That won't ever change."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.