Padres counting on fireballer Cashner

Padres counting on fireballer Cashner

PEORIA, Ariz. -- If Andrew Cashner had gotten his wish, he might have been playing shortstop -- albeit a very tall shortstop -- for a Major League team somewhere instead of throwing 100 mph gas at the back end of a bullpen for the Padres.

This was the dream Cashner once clung to while playing baseball at Conroe High, located 40 miles due north of Houston. There was only one problem with Cashner's dream.

"I love to hit, but I just couldn't hit a curveball," he said.

The Padres haven't asked him to try, and if he never touches a bat, they would probably be fine, as the team traded for the 6-foot-6 Cashner in January to help bolster the back end of the bullpen, even though it meant trading away first-base prospect Anthony Rizzo.

The Padres are hopeful that Cashner -- who has been the talk of camp with his plus-velocity and a slider and changeup that look to be reliable pitches -- develops into the steady eighth-inning specialist they had in Mike Adams before he was dealt to the Rangers on July 31 of last season.

"I think once he starts getting his feet wet in that eighth inning role of wherever he pitches, I think he's going to thrive," Padres catcher Nick Hundley said of Cashner " I've just been impressed by how hard he works."

And not just by how hard he throws, as Cashner has shown in camp that he's anything but a one-trick pony -- a flamethrower without anything else to offer.

"The change is good and the slider is better than I expected," said Padres catcher John Baker said. "I know [Cashner] says it is his third pitch, but it's pretty good.

"He's got all the tools to be a great closer in the future."

That's the funny thing with Cashner, who was the Cubs' fifth starter on Opening Day a year ago. He now pegs as the setup guy for Street, but his history is with starting and that's still something he will likely get a chance to do with the Padres, though not before the 2013 season.

For now, the Padres want him to miss bats and preserve a lead in the eighth inning, which is something that his predecessor was so good at before being dealt to the Rangers for promising pitchers Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin.

"In those late-inning games, if you get in trouble and get guys on, you can't afford those sacrifice flies and productive outs -- the ground ball, the RBI," Hundley said. "That's where the guys like Cashner can get the strikeout. Those are the kind of guys you need."

Cashner, who actually played some catcher and the outfield in high school in addition to pitching and playing shortstop, didn't always have this kind of plus-velocity.

"When I was in high school, I was probably 88 to 92 mph, somewhere in there. Went to junior college and was 88 to 94 mph. I kept getting stronger and stronger every year," he said. "But it really took off when I went to TCU and went from a starter to being a reliever."

Cashner, 25, was drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2008 Draft and made his debut with the team two years later. He missed nearly all of last season with a strained rotator cuff. He returned in September with his velocity, something he showed Padres scouts during the Arizona Fall League.

Now, he hopes to show that fastball -- with his slider and changeup -- in the late innings for the Padres, who are certainly excited about what Cashner has to offer.

"It's just pretty to watch. It's an amazing gift that he has," Hundley said. "To see it play out at the highest level is pretty special. You can name on one hand the guys in the world who throw 100 mph. It's kind of nice to catch one."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.