Padres have decisions when Cashner returns

Padres have decisions when Cashner returns

SAN DIEGO -- On more than a couple of occasions this season, injuries have sent the Padres scrambling for pitchers to fill out their rotation.

But if all goes according to plan, they'll have a much more pleasant rotation decision to make next week -- with six starters available for five spots.

Right-hander Andrew Cashner, who has fully recovered from a right-hamstring strain, is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday. He'll pitch either that day or the next (with James Shields taking the ball when Cashner doesn't).

That means Christian Friedrich, Cesar Vargas or potentially even Colin Rea could fall victim to a game of roster musical chairs.

"Somebody always wants your job," said Padres manager Andy Green. "That's just the way it is. Guys fight tooth and nail to get here. Christian Friedrich has fought hard to get back into a Major League rotation. Vargas kind of came out of nowhere to put himself into the rotation. Both have pitched well, and Colin Rea is throwing the ball fairly well, too."

Friedrich would seem to be the most likely arm to head back to Triple-A El Paso. After all, he got the callup last week, in part because of Cashner's injury.

But Friedrich allowed only one run over six innings in his Padres debut last Friday, and a solid start against the Dodgers in Friday's series opener could go a long way toward cementing his place in the rotation moving forward.

There's also a bit more that goes into San Diego's decision than current performance. In Vargas and Rea, the Padres have a pair of young arms that they'd like to nurture. Rea, 25, has never pitched more than 139 innings in a season, and Vargas, 24, spent the past two years as a reliever in the Yankees' organization.

"As you look at young guys throughout the course of a season, you think about how many innings he's thrown in the past, how do we protect him, how do we extend him through the entire season?" Green said. "Sometimes, you make decisions with people's best interests in mind, and that means a temporary step back."

It appears likely that the Padres will limit the workload for Vargas and Rea at some point. One option -- specifically in Vargas' case -- could be a move to the bullpen to keep his innings down.

But the Padres have no designs on doing so at any point in the near future.

"Right now, there's no talk of Cesar Vargas as a bullpen guy," Green said. "We love what he's doing in the rotation. There's no talk about Colin Rea in the bullpen either, or Christian Friedrich in the bullpen. "We'll just let this play out, and when we get to the point where we have to make a decision, let's evaluate all the variables."

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