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Closing Time: Straight Cashner, homey

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Cash is King (USAT)

The mere numbers in the box score might not sound like much. Lots of pitchers work six tidy innings allowing just one run, especially in Petco Park. To get the full perspective of how Andrew Cashner is regarded, we need other elements: a little video, and some post-game comments.

Roll the tape first, have a look at Cashner stepping on the high-90s gas in his Friday victory over San Francisco. Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt both struck out twice, and no one managed an extra-base hit against Cashner. The converted reliever allowed five hits and one run over his stint, with one walk and five strikeouts.

"The guy has a great arm and he just shut us down," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told MLB.com. "It's that simple."

His secondary pitches don't offer the same visceral reaction, but Cashner also had decent command of his change and curve Friday. The Padres feel he could be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter down the line; that's why they essentially swapped Anthony Rizzo for Cashner back in January 2012 (two non-prospects on each side completed the deal).

[Also: Owner Jeffrey Loria further alienates Marlins, fans with lineup mandate]

"He hasn't reached his ceiling," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. "When he starts rolling, the sky's the limit."

Cashner opened the year in the bullpen and the plan was to slowly stretch out his arm, get him ready for the rotation. A temporary setback for Clayton Richard gave Cashner the first spot start, and a DL stint for Tyson Ross pushed Cashner in the rotation for good. He's not going anywhere now.

"It's like a fun new toy to play with," catcher John Baker said.

Feel like a shiny new toy, fake-baseball player? Of course you do. Cashner is owned in a mere 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues and he carries both pitching tags (SP, RP). He'll go up against the unthreatening Cubs next week, then he draws the Marlins at Petco Park (as good as a matchup gets). Sounds like a good time to get in on the ground floor.

Kyle Kendrick is another NL right-hander at the 13-percent ownership level, though he doesn't have the buzzy file of a Cashner. Kendrick is entering his seventh season and he's never gone past 11 wins or 116 strikeouts. His career ratios (4.22/1.35) don't move the needle.

That said, Kendrick found his best form in the second half of 2012 (nine wins, 2.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), succeeding as an extreme control artist who misses just enough bats. And the positive results have carried over to this spring: Kendrick has been sharp in four straight turns (after a poor start against the Royals), capped by Friday's three-hit shutout at Citi Field (1 BB, 5 K, 107 pitches). Maybe everything is finally clicking at age 28. Kendrick's next start is a home date against the friendly Marlins, so make your streaming plans now.

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I wanna say it, can't say it (USAT)

One thing you're not doing in any competitive league today is picking up Jordan Zimmermann or Anibal Sanchez; those guys were drafted (and fairly aggressively) back in March. Generally we don't talk about players of this regard unless they get hurt or so something wrong, but their outstanding turns from Friday demand a brief mention. Zimmermann worked the pitch-to-contact route in a one-hit shutout of the Reds (1 BB, 4 K, 91 pitches), while Sanchez fired a 17-strikeout masterpiece against the Braves (122 pitches, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB). Here's your Washington tape, and here's the Sanchez clip; dig in and enjoy.

One of the takeaways from the latter game ties to the Atlanta offense. It's a hacking group, with 203 whiffs through the opening three weeks (only the Astros and Red Sox have more). The Braves are also an ordinary 12th in runs scored. The driving factor in Atlanta's fast start is the pitching (2.87 ERA), and while we don't want to aggressively target this club for our pitchers, there's no reason to play dodge-em, either.

[Also: Injury bug bites Yankees again]

The cheap three-run save is a closer's best friend and it cushioned Brandon League against Milwaukee. League had a messy time over his inning, allowing two hits and a run, along with an error and a wild pitch. The crowd couldn't exhale (and Vinny couldn't begin his wrap-up poetry) until Ryan Braun grounded out to end the game. Cue up the Newman and shake some hands, the Dodgers win.

League's story has mostly been pitch-and-duck: he's sitting on one walk and four strikeouts over 10 innings. He's been scored on in five of his last seven appearances. But he's also converted 13-of-14 saves since the Dodgers turned his way in the second half of 2012; he's got a fair amount of leash to work with (a three-year contract worth $22.5 million also comes into play). Kenley Jansen owners can at least take heart in this: if the Dodgers have a save chance Saturday, he'll probably get the call (League needs a rest after three straight days of work).

The Cubs haven't had many shiny-happy days in 2013, so let's savor the tidy Friday win at Miami. Anthony Rizzo clocked two homers and stole a base; forget the batting average, he's not going anywhere. Gogglin' Kevin Gregg worked a smooth ninth for his second save of the week (James Russell recorded one out in the seventh and Shawn Camp got through a messy eighth). The committee is alive and well, what with Carlos Marmol also shaking hands this week and Kyuji Fujikawa making progress in his rehab. There are several options on Dale Sveum's bingo card.

Chicago leftover: somehow Welington Castillo is batting .300 despite a curious batting eye (20 whiffs, no walks). Good luck keeping that up, hacker.

Speed Round: It's not easy to beat soft rock Tommy Milone in Oakland, but the Orioles completed the task Friday, thanks to a Wei-Yin Chen gem (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) and an unearned run off Mayday. Chen has been useful in every start, impressing the discerning scouts. Perhaps you'll want to dial Chen up before next week's assignment at Seattle; he's best used in an uncapped-innings league, where the low strikeout rate won't hurt you. The HR/FB trend eventually is going to normalize, but the marine layer provides a handy backdrop. … The Royals have been rainout kings of the early schedule. Friday's game was washed away, which means Kansas City and Cleveland will play a doubleheader Sunday. … Jordan Pacheco is getting occasional playing time with the Rockies, part of the replace-Helton plan. Pacheco is at .357 after a three-hit Friday, and he carries a faux-catcher tag in Yahoo! leagues. You need daily maintenance here, but there's utility in deeper leagues. … I'll cut some slack to Paul Maholm (eight runs in Detroit); the Tigers offense can do it to anyone. Alas, the Nationals and Reds await Maholm over the next two weeks. I'm holding firm with the lefty, but I can understand why anyone in a 10-team (or lower) pool might want to move along, kick the tires elsewhere. … Mark Ellis (quad strain) and Didi Gregorius (temple contusion) both got hurt in the second wave of games, so you might need to shop for a weekend solution in the middle. Context clues point to Ellis needing an extended break (and maybe a DL stint), while Gregorius is in a day-to-day situation.

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