Black patiently waits to name his Opening Day starter
Spring rotation setting up for Cashner to get the ball March 30 against Dodgers
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When it comes to choosing an Opening Day starting pitcher, Padres' manager Bud Black has a tried-and-true mantra that he hasn't wavered from in his seven previous seasons.
"I don't want to be the first … and I don't want to be the last," Black jokes. "I want to be somewhere in the middle."
True to form, Black has yet to name his starter for Opening Day on March 30 against the Dodgers, but it is nearly a foregone conclusion that it will be Andrew Cashner, who just so happens to be pitching each fifth day -- with that fifth day at the end of the month landing precisely on Opening Day.
But for as obvious as Cashner might appear, Black doesn't take the process of picking a starter for the first game of the season lightly -- and not just because he was a former big league pitcher.
"There's a lot of factors that go into it," Black said.
There is one factor, though, that essentially overrides the rest, Black said.
"First of all, you look at the talent of the pitcher," Black said.
In Black's first three seasons as manager (2007-09), that decision was made relatively easy, as he chose Jake Peavy. Peavy, of course, won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007. Peavy was the best pitcher on the staff -- period.
"You look at, with everything being equal, no injuries or anything quirky, you look at if he's deserving, does he deserve that nod, because I do think it's a feather in the cap for that pitcher to get that start," Black said.
"You also look at his performance during Spring Training; is he throwing well enough to be named Opening Day starter?"
Occasionally, injuries can force a manager's hand, as was the case in 2011 when the Padres picked Tim Stauffer to start Opening Day in St. Louis. That was a late decision after Mat Latos, who won 14 games the previous season, developed a sore right shoulder late in camp.
The early-season schedule can play a small role as well. In 2010, Jon Garland started Opening Day in his only season with the team. But that set up Chris Young to start the home opener at Petco Park later, which is what the team preferred.
In 2012, Stauffer looked in line to start Opening Day but he was bothered late in camp by a sore right triceps. Enter Edinson Volquez, who made the first of two Opening Day starts with the team.
Black said looking at the April schedule isn't really a determining factor for him when looking at who starts Opening Day. The variable, he said, is too great.
"That can all change with one rainout," he said.
Last season, Volquez got the nod over Clayton Richard. But Richard got the start when the Padres faced the Dodgers in the home opener at Petco Park.
Talent and dependability aside, Black -- who made three consecutive Opening Day starts with the Royals (1984-86) -- said there's another factor to consider, one more psychological than physical.
"You also look to see if a guy can handle it," Black said. "… There's a lot of hoopla and there can be some distractions on that day. It's a big media presence day, there's a pregame ceremony and you still need to have the wherewithal to handle all of those distractions.
"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."
As for this season, Black has only mentioned Cashner and Ian Kennedy as viable candidates to start on Opening Day. The rest of the rotation, which includes newcomer Josh Johnson and Tyson Ross and also Eric Stults, figures to be named in the coming days or weeks.
Cashner is coming off a season where he was 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 games, including 26 starts.