SAN DIEGO -- For as much as pitcher Andrew Cashner appeared to be, and likely was, a no-brainer to get the start for the regular-season opener against the Dodgers on Sunday, manager Bud Black still ran through his checklist of requirements for his Opening Day starter before making it official.
"You look at, with everything being equal -- no injuries or anything quirky -- you look at if he's deserving … because I do think it's a feather in the cap for that pitcher to get that start," Black said.
"And you also look at his performance during Spring Training; is he throwing well enough to be named Opening Day starter?" Black continued.
"You also look to see if a guy can handle it," Black added. "There's a lot of hoopla and there can be some distractions on that day. You have to be able to handle all of that and still keep your focus on what's the most important thing, which is pitching the game that day."
Check on all that, too.
So when it came down to it -- in Black's opinion and that of the organization -- Cashner was the best pitcher to start against the Dodgers, and anchor what is expected to be a much-improved and more durable starting rotation than the one that began the season in 2013.
"It's a big honor for me; it's something I've been working toward since last year. It was one of my goals. I feel like it's a big honor for me," Cashner said recently.
"I don't really feel any pressure. It is Opening Night, but it is something I've wanted to do and it's a challenge I'm looking forward to. I'm truly blessed."
With just 32 career starts, Cashner will have the second-fewest starts by an Opening Day pitcher in club history, behind only Pat Dobson, who had 20 starts before getting the regular-season nod in 1970.
Yes, the Padres think that much of the 27-year-old. And for good reason, as after a series of stops and starts -- both with the Cubs and early with the Padres -- the right-hander reached his potential in 2013, but also showed he's nowhere near his ceiling.
"There's no doubt that fundamentally with his delivery, his mechanics, his arm action, his stuff, there's a great foundation there for success," Black said. "We all know there's a lot more to it than that, but he's got a lot going for him right now. What he did in the second half last year was a snippet of what we think he can do long-term."
Cashner shined in his first full season as a starter, going 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 games (26 starts). He got better as the season went on, posting a 2.25 ERA in August and a 0.76 mark in the last month of the season, which included a near no-hitter against the Pirates.
Overall, Cashner ranked 10th in the National League in ERA (3.04) among pitchers with at least 25 starts. Better still, in the second half of the season, Cashner's FIP (fielding independent pitching) was a striking 2.92.
"The biggest thing is not being max effort every pitch," Cashner said. "It's really not that I'm saving myself. I'm still using a lot of effort, but I guess it's more of being smarter about it and how I go about it. I think my fastball has been good and my changeup has been good, but I think the biggest thing is taking some off my changeup."
His strikeout rate went down, but he learned how to be more efficient -- saving bullets for later on in the game instead of using them all early, which he was previously able to do when he was a reliever. His two-seam fastball has improved and could lead to ground balls early in counts. Cashner's secondary pitches have improved as well.
"The unique thing about Cash is he throws a two-seamer and four-seamer, but he seems to have better command of his two-seamer than his four," said Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. "… Most guys are the other way around. That's why he was far more efficient last year throwing more strikes. He doesn't lose much velocity when he turns it loose."
Balsley sees no reason why the two-seamer, when used with his improving slider, can't help Cashner to have more efficient outings moving forward.
"It can help him stay in the game longer, that's great," Balsley said. "He may not punch out as many guys, but his command with it is very good. The strikeouts might actually stay the same, but he might induce more weak contact moving forward."