For the Padres, it's easy to pinpoint what they've missed in the time Cashner was away tending to a sore right elbow -- the electricity, success and possibility he brings every fifth day.
That was the case Saturday as he tossed six scoreless innings as the Padres rallied for a 4-3 victory in 11 innings over the Nationals before a crowd of 29,172 at Petco Park.
Cashner overcame a slow first inning and finished by retiring the final 16 hitters he faced and teammates Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin struck big blows offensively as the Padres improved to 28-34.
The Padres were down to their last out after Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano got two quick outs to start the inning. But when Soriano tried to sneak a 1-0 fastball by Alonso, he sent a towering fly ball to right that landed just beyond the right-field wall.
Two years ago, before modifications were made, bringing in the fence in 11 feet in right field, the Alonso ball would likely have been an out. Not Saturday, though.
Then in the 11th inning, with Chase Headley on second base and Alonso on first, Maybin fisted a ball into right field off reliever Craig Stammen (0-2) to drive in the game-winning run.
"That was a big one," said Maybin, who also had a run-scoring double in the fourth inning. "I was able to get just enough of it. It was a cutter in and I was able to get the bat on it. That was a huge win."
Huge in terms of the final result, but moreso what Cashner's return meant to the Padres. He is, after all, their staff ace. He lowered his ERA to 2.13 by allowing two hits with one walk and five strikeouts over six innings. He threw 70 pitches and manager Bud Black figured that was plenty for the night.
"I think Buddy is just looking out for my best interest," Cashner said.
What did Cashner's return from the disabled list -- his last start was May 13 -- mean to the Padres? Just ask his teammates.
"It was good having him back out there," Maybin said. "He's a bulldog."
Catcher Rene Rivera, who had two doubles, said it was as if Cashner never left.
"He was looking like the Cash before," Rivera said. "His fastball was sinking a lot and that was the best changeup he's ever had and his slider was good. He looked great."
Black didn't have a hard-and-fast number of pitches he wanted Cashner to throw -- or not exceed. But after six strong innings, he felt it was enough.
"In my mind, I thought 80 to 90 [pitches] was the number or six innings. I didn't think it was prudent to have him go seven [innings]," Black said.
Cashner finished fast, but started slow, as he allowed three baserunners in the first inning but nary a run, as Rivera picked Kevin Frandsen off third base for the second out of the inning.
"The first inning was a little trouble tonight. I was able to get out of the first inning. It was a big throw by Rene, getting that out," Cashner said. "I think my fastball had the most movement it's had in a long time. I don't think it was rust, I just think it was balls moving more than they have and they ran back to the middle of the plate."
Things got a little interesting after Cashner left the game.
Nick Vincent, summoned from the bullpen to protect a two-run lead, allowed consecutive doubles with one out in the seventh inning to Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. The latter double allowed a run to score, making it 2-1.
After Wilson Ramos lined out to right field, Ian Desmond jumped on a fastball and sent it into the shrubs beyond the center-field fence for a 3-2 lead. The estimated distance of the home run was 432 feet.
"I've only seen a couple of balls hit that far [at Petco Park] and they were by [Barry] Bonds," said Frandsen, a former teammate of Bonds with the Giants.
The Padres had a good opportunity to tie the game in the eighth inning as Rivera began the inning with a double down the left-field line off Tyler Clippard. Rivera then advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia.
But Everth Cabrera's fly ball to center field was too shallow for Rivera to attempt to tag up. Pinch-hitter Carlos Quentin struck out to end the inning.
A Rivera double with one out in the 10th inning made things interesting for the Padres, but he was left stranded as Denorfia struck out looking and Cabrera flew out to left field.
Joaquin Benoit (2-0) got the victory for the Padres.