Red Sox need a shorter leash for starter Andrew Cashner

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 06: Andrew Cashner #48 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on August 6, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 06: Andrew Cashner #48 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on August 6, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox need to pull right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner from the game before opposing lineups see him for the third time.

Not every starting pitcher is built to go the distance. A manager needs to know the limits of his pitching staff and be ready to give his starter the hook before he reaches his breaking point. The Boston Red Sox are still figuring out how to utilize midseason acquisition Andrew Cashner and the learning curve proved costly in his latest outing.

Cashner produced another dud on Tuesday, getting shelled by the Kansas City Royals for six runs over 5 1/3 innings. The loss dropped him to 1-4 with a brutal 7.53 ERA in five starts since joining the Red Sox.

The results were ugly but Cashner’s line would have looked far more appealing if he stopped after five innings. The Royals broke the game open with a three-run sixth inning, doubling their lead while chasing Cashner from the game.

The frame began with the top of the Royals lineup stepping to the plate to face Cashner for the third time. Whit Merrifield led off with a base hit and Hunter Dozier drove him in two batters later. Jorge Soler followed with a two-run homer and an outing on the verge of becoming a quality start quickly unraveled into a dumpster fire.

Cashner hadn’t even reached 70 pitches yet through five innings and pitched well enough to keep the Red Sox in the game to that point. They couldn’t have known it was time to pull him, right? Well, maybe they should have.

A review of his season splits shows Cashner starts out strong, holding opposing hitters to a .225 batting average and .673 OPS the first time through the lineup. Hitters are moderately more successfully their next time through the order but he still limits them to a respectable .253 average and .764 OPS. After that is where it gets messy. When Cashner faces batters for the third time in a game, he’s allowing a .310 average and .808 OPS.

His track record shows a similar trend. Cashner’s OPS allowed throughout his career rises from .694 the first time through the order to .805 when he faces hitters for the third time.

Cashner brushed off questions from reporters after the game regarding why it’s harder for him to get hitters out the third time through the order.

"“I don’t know,” said Cashner. “I’m not a numbers guy.”"

Not a numbers guy? The number is three, Cash! He was clearly deflecting the question but we know the answer. Most pitchers are less successful each time through the order. It’s the nature of the game as hitters make adjustments after seeing how a pitcher attacks them.

The regression each time through the order may be more extreme for a pitcher like Cashner. He’s not an overpowering strikeout machine who can blow hitters away even when they know what’s coming. He’s trying to induce weak contact for ground balls and that makes him more predictable. Once hitters see which pitches are working for him that night and how he’s approaching them, it makes their job easier.

Cashner could have called it a night after five innings feeling satisfied that he held the Royals to three runs and kept the game within reach. If Alex Cora wanted to press his luck by letting him start the sixth inning against the top of the order, he should have had a much shorter leash. Cora certainly shouldn’t have left Cashner in to face Soler, who had already homered off him earlier that night and is now tied for third in the American League with 31 home runs.

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The Red Sox made a similar mistake in Cashner’s last outing when the Tampa Bay Rays tacked on three more runs against him in the sixth inning. All three runs he allowed to the Yankees in his previous start came during their third trip through the order. Cashner also gave up the go-ahead home run the third time he faced Justin Smoak in a loss to the Blue Jays.

Would pulling Cashner make a difference in a game where the offense mustered only two runs? Perhaps not, although we can’t underestimate how deflating it can be for the Red Sox offense to constantly be asked to bail out the pitching staff. Boston’s bats could have rallied with more confidence if it were a one-run game in the ninth inning instead of four runs.

Pitching deep into games has been a problem for the Red Sox rotation. Prior to the Cashner trade, the spot starters they cycled through the No. 5 spot struggled to make it to five innings. Getting a solid five out of Cashner is an improvement and if he’s pitching well then he should last a bit longer before the lineup comes up for the third time. The Red Sox should be content with that rather than pushing Cashner too far.

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Boston’s bullpen isn’t exactly trustworthy but they have several options who fare better than Cashner does when facing hitters for the third time. He’s a capable back of the rotation option but not a pitcher who will carry a heavy workload. Cashner can help this team but the team isn’t helping him when they leave him in too long.