SAN DIEGO: The last time the San Diego Padres slogged through a dreadful April, Andrew Cashner was their unquestioned stopper. He looked the part again on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), then watched from the dugout as Melvin Upton played the role of the hero.
A 16-game loser a year ago, Cashner fired off his first quality start of the season, received a decent helping of run support by Padres standards these days and celebrated on the field after Upton delivered a 5-3 walk-off win on a 14th-inning homer to help his team avoid a fifth straight loss in a 12-game-old season.
The Padres didn’t suffer a five-game skid last season — a year in which they fired their manager — until early July. The calendar will read April 17 when they wake Sunday morning sitting four games off the Dodgers’ and Giants’ pace in the NL West after needing more than five hours and 20 minutes to get into the win column for the first time since Monday.
The Padres managed just two runs off a wild Shelby Miller (1 2/3 IP, 3 walks), their bats fell quiet after Matt Kemp’s third-inning homer off Matt Buschmann and the bullpen had just a two-run cushion when Cashner walked off the mound with a single run allowed in six innings, his longest start of the season.
As was the case Friday night, an error cracked open a door for the Diamondbacks.
On third base after Melvin Upton bobbled his one-out double in left field, Yasmany Tomas raced home on Brandon Drury’s sacrifice fly to left in the seventh off Kevin Quackenbush. The next inning, Brandon Maurer’s wild pitch with two outs and a runner on third allowed the tying run to score and the rest of the Diamondbacks’ seven-man bullpen rattled off 10 straight zeroes on the scoreboard until Upton’s game-winning blast off Rubby De La Rosa — Arizona’s scheduled Monday starter.
Consider Cashner’s start a culmination of a slow build back to status quo, circa 2014.
At least that’s the hope.
Of course, the 29-year-old right-hander had nowhere to go but up after allowing four runs in his first inning of the season and serving up Kenta Maeda’s first career homer in a blowout loss. The next time out, Cashner turned in three scoreless innings before yielding a single run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings in Philadelphia.
The start fell short of quality when Cashner failed to get an out in his final frame. Still, Padres manager Andy Green sensed the beginning of … something.
“Those three innings were the best three innings that I’ve seen from him since I’ve been in a Padres uniform,” Green said, “and those are three innings to build with and realize it’s almost workman like. Went three last time? Let’s get to five this time. Let’s get to six and then on to seven and eight.
“He’s capable of anything. It’s just a matter of executing every day, staying true to his plan and not wavering as the game goes on.”
On Saturday, Cashner stayed on script.
His lone walks were issued to Paul Goldschmidt. The 6-foot-5 Texan also fanned him with a runner on second to end third inning, a punchout outdone only by the 95 mph fastball that ran back in on the plate to catch Socrates Brito looking to end the fifth with a runner on third.
With one run in already on Jean Segura’s RBI groundout, Cashner clapped his hands together as he walked off the mound with a 3-1 lead intact.
Cashner struck out five and scattered a run, four hits and two walks over six innings in a no-decision.