20 wins? D-backs see big year ahead for Cahill
MAR 17, 2013 7:14p ET
Lest anyone believe the D-backs do not appreciate the changes, here is what Kirk Gibson had to say before Cahill’s fourth spring start Sunday.
“Hopefully he will be up around 20 wins and 200-plus innings,” Gibson said.
Those numbers hardly looked like a stretch hours later, after Cahill had given up just a single and two walks in five innings, overpowering the Dodgers in the D-backs’ 9-1 victory. Yasiel Puig’s looping single to left field was the only ball the Dodgers got out of the infield, a ball pushed just out of shortstop Willie Bloomquist’s reach. Cahill struck out five, all swinging, and got nine groundball outs. The other was a foul pop to catcher Miguel Montero.
“Best he’s thrown it this spring,” Gibson said afterward. “We know from last year that sometimes he struggles early, and then he gets going and gets a lot more strikes and a lot more quick outs. For the first time this spring, I felt like he really started to get into a good groove.”
Cahill, 13-12 last season, won 18 games in 2010, when he also had the fewest walks in his four seasons, a correlation that is hard to overlook.
After being told that Gibson mentioned 20 wins, Cahill said: “I think he wants to get me to throw mores strikes and get after guys. The stuff is there. Just the command is an issue at times. It’s kind of what I’ve always been working on and still trying to improve on. One thing that stood out was walking two guys today. That’s one number I’ve been looking at this spring -- walks.
“My goal this year is to try to keep the walks down to maybe one a game, I don’t know. Set the bar high.”
At times, as was the case Sunday, Cahill seems his own worst critic. He walked only two batters, one with two outs and a runner on third base to bring up the No. 8 hitter in the Dodgers’ lineup.
“I don’t know if it is a mental lapse or just don’t feel good that batter, but during the season, you just don’t want that to happen. You want to focus the whole outing and not give in to anybody,” Cahill said.
Cahill finished the 2012 season on a nice run, getting to 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA while hitting 200 innings in his final start of the season, a complete-game victory over the Cubs on Sept. 29. Cahill threw a season-high 126 pitches and had a season-high nine strikeouts in that one, capping a September in which he made five quality starts, went 4-1 and gave up only 34 base runners (24 hits, 10 walks) in 34 1/3 innings. He walked 74 batters last year after walking 82 in his final season in Oakland in 2011 and 63 the year before that.
The key for Cahill to reach the elite level, Gibson believes, is finding a repeatable release point and keeping things simple. When Cahill arrived last spring, former A’s teammates told friends on the D-backs that his sinking fastball was in the Brandon Webb class, and that has not changed.
“It’s great stuff,” Gibson said. “When he’s got everything working, it moves everywhere. It’s hard to center.”
Cahill can get into trouble, Gibson said, when he tries to make the ball do too much, which with his stuff is an unnecessary extra.
“His ball moves naturally. He has a lot of action on the baseball. Sometimes he tries to overmaneuver it. He gets in trouble when ... he tries to make it go a little extra,” Gibson said, holding his right hand high and making a buzzing sound.
“He gets out of whack with it. His release point changes too much. Most pitchers are trying to have the ball come out of the same spot all the time, kind of find their arm slot. Something he has been working on in spring ... where is my arm slot?’ You can go look at last year and the year before, it doesn’t mean it is going to be there this year. You have to find some place where you are comfortable and the ball is coming out virtually the same all the time. When you try to maneuver it, that changes other things.”
Cahill is at that point this spring, looking for a comfortable, effective delivery, although he seemed to have found it Sunday.
“I still am not sure if it is where it normally is or where it is most comfortable. It is just getting that sinker (two-seam fastball) to the glove side of the plate. When I can do that eight out of 10 times, that’s when I know I have found it. Right now it is kind of hit or miss, and I am using my other pitches kind of around the fastball,” he said. “Before the season starts, I want to get to where I feel I can throw to that side whenever I need it.”
Cahill dropped between 10 and 15 pounds with the new diet and a winter workout regimen designed by trainer Ken Crenshaw and strength and conditioning coach Nate Shaw. Cahill said Sunday he has not felt much difference a month into spring training, but it might be something that keeps him stronger longer. That’s what the D-backs believe.
“His shoulder strength, his flexibility, the body alignment. They work on all that stuff,” Gibson said. "The proper posture. He’s put a ton of work into that. The thought is, it helps you perform more consistently and helps you avoid injury.
“That’s why he did it. We talked about it before the end of last season. He’s put himself in a lot better position to have a lot better endurance. I’m hoping that everything he did will have long-lasting effects throughout the season. I think it will pay off.”