Andrew Cashner started San Diego's 8-7 split-squad loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. The Padres hope the hard-throwing right-hander will be ready to start the season in the rotation.
The 26-year-old Cashner allowed one run on three hits, reaching his 35-pitch count in 2 1-3 innings.
Cashner can hit 100 mph with his fastball, accented by a changeup and a hard-breaking slider. Against the Dodgers, he threw only two breaking pitches.
Cashner lacerated a tendon in his thumb during, an offseason hunting accident — a knife mishap while dressing a deer — that required surgery. His throwing schedule was delayed, but the Padres hope his pitch count can increase to the point that he can be in the rotation on opening day.
"It's going to be close," Cashner said.
While Cashner is an ideal candidate for the rotation's No. 5 spot, the Padres concede that he might not be ready. Cashner should start three more times this spring, with pitch counts rising from 50 to 65 to 80.
"It's tough to look that far down the road," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He needs to be ready for an increased pitch count. His command must be efficient and he can't be worried about injuries he's had in the past, including his thumb. There's a lot left for Andrew to work on."
Cashner's potential is undeniable. His velocity is high and his slider sharp, and the Padres believe those traits sustained over high pitch counts.
He has primarily been a reliever in the major leagues. Cashner, acquired from the Chicago Cubs on Jan. 6, 2012 for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, was the Padres' setup man for half the season. He was sent down to prepare for starting duty, but strained his back muscle in his second start back.
He was 0-1 with a 5.12 ERA in five 2012 starts, but the Padres are banking on improved numbers following a healthy spring.
"It was a good effort for his first true start of the spring," Black said. "His fastball command has been good and his delivery looked clean."
The Padres must also consider other options should the Cashner option not work out. Tim Stauffer, Tyson Ross, Freddy Garcia and Anthony Bass are also rotation candidates.
Los Angeles right-handed pitcher Aaron Harang also is fighting for a rotation spot. He didn't help his cause, giving up five runs — four earned — and had two walks in four innings.
"I thought he was just OK," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "His pitch count (80) increased, which was the important thing moving forward."
San Diego's Will Venable went 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs in his first game since injuring his side last week.
The Padres scored three runs in the ninth to win the game.
NOTES: Padres 3B Chase Headley will replace the injured David Wright on Team USA should the Americans advance to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. ... Dodgers RHP Zach Greinke played catch four days after returning to Los Angeles to get his right elbow examined. ... Dodgers RHP Shawn Tolleson was hit on the elbow by a comebacker. He was removed from the game and taken back to Dodgers spring camp for further evaluation. ... LF Carlos Quentin remains out indefinitely with knee discomfort, and Padres manager Bud Black said the injury has cut into his desired preparation for the regular season, but it hasn't eliminated his chances of playing on opening day. ... RHP Nick Vincent had an MRI on his ailing wrist. Results weren't immediately known. ... INF Nick Punto returned to the Dodgers' camp after playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.