Free agency during the just-completed baseball off-season gave Andrew Cashner the opportunity he had been working toward since his major league service clock started ticking in 2010.
For the first time in his career, he had the opportunity to choose where he played, and topping his list was the Lone Star State. Being in Texas is even more important to him than being allowed to grow back his trademark beard.
“I can’t say it enough: I’ve never been more excited to be back in Texas,” Cashner said.
The native Texan and former TCU All-American quickly struck a one-year, $10 million deal with the Texas Rangers, and now he gets another opportunity: to erase a 2016 season that rates as far from his best.
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He debuted in a Rangers uniform Wednesday during the first spring workout for pitchers and catchers, throwing a bullpen season alongside rotation incumbents Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez.
Cashner is healthy again after hamstring and neck injuries, and ready to again be the pitcher that the Rangers have coveted for multiple seasons.
I can’t say it enough: I’ve never been more excited to be back in Texas.
“Every year you get a fresh start,” Cashner said. “I don’t think it was as bad as the numbers show, but I couldn’t stay consistent because I couldn’t get my arm in the same slot that I wanted.
“You’ve always got something to prove, especially coming back home to the state of Texas. Now, all eyes are on me as far as people I know and being back home. There you have something to prove. Now that I’m back home, there are a lot of eyes watching.”
Cashner is scheduled to back on top of a mound Saturday, weather permitting, as Rangers pitchers continue the slow progression toward April 3, when the season opens against the Cleveland Indians. He will be four months removed from a neck injury that hampered him the second half of last season.
His average velocity dipped to 93.5 mph, the slowest of his career, and he threw more sliders and curveballs than in any other season. The final results were a career-high 5.25 ERA in 132 innings and 60 walks.
Half of those walks came in 52 2/3 innings after he was traded from San Diego to Miami ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Cashner never missed a start with the Marlins, who might have wish he had.
He went 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA as the Marlins faded out of playoff contention.
“With my neck injury, I never really got over that,” he said. “I kept pitching, but it was never the same.”
The Rangers, who were one of the teams in the July hunt for Cashner, have long coveted the Conroe native. They believed at the time that pitching coach Doug Brocail would be able to help Cashner get back on track.
That belief prevails this spring. They met Friday to discuss what Cashner would like to change and what Brocail believes might work best. It’s not a complete overhaul, but just a few tweaks.
Cashner has given the Rangers the impression that he is open-minded about any ideas that could help him realize his potential.
1.3 Drop in average fastball velocity, to 93.5 mph, experienced by Andrew Cashner from 2015 to 2016
“The No. 1 thing is extension,” Brocail said. “When he gets to a certain length and extension out front, he’s unhittable. We talked a little about it today. I’m not so much worried about the length of stride as long as we’re traveling to get to an end result. That end result has to be extension.
“With Cash, it’s get in shape at your pace. Let’s fine-tune some adjustments that will allow us to have better success. There’s no way I look at Andrew Cashner and say 7-14 or 7-15. I do see the 15-7. I think this is a guy who’s from Texas, he’s home, he’s in a new environment that’s going to allow us to be upfront and honest with each other, and he’s shown me nothing to make me believe that’s not going to happen.”
The Rangers were also able to recognize that 2016 is not an accurate reflection of the type of pitcher Cashner is. Just watching video from last season told Brocail that Cashner was injured.
The club wasn’t scared away, and they are looking forward to having Cashner in their rotation.
“I don’t think [the neck injury] was widely known, so we viewed it as an opportunity for a guy that’s healthy and aware of the situation to help him get better,” manager Jeff Banister said.
“I always felt like he was a big imposing guy on the mound, and if he could retake the inner half of the plate for himself to open up a little more of the outer portion of the plate. He has swing-and-miss secondary stuff. There’s still upside for Cashner, in my opinion.”