SAN DIEGO -- Andrew Cashner has been a man on a mission this year.
All season, the former first-round pick has been out to prove people wrong and the Cubs will be just the latest objective on his list when he faces his former team Sunday afternoon.
"I'm ready," he said. "I didn't pitch that well in Chicago last time we were there. But I have a good feel for a lot of things right now, a good rhythm. I love pitching in this park.
"I'm looking to shove it up their [bleep] tomorrow."
When Theo Epstein and former Padres GM Jed Hoyer took over the Cubs front office in late 2011, one of the first moves they made was to deal Cashner to San Diego for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. They didn't think Cashner could cut it as a starter and was nothing more than a bullpen arm.
Cashner battled through arm injuries in his first year with the Padres and made just five starts, but appeared in 28 games out of the bullpen.
He went into the offseason hoping to be a part of the rotation, but suffered a freak injury in December when he was accidentally sliced with a knife while hunting with his friend, lacerating a tendon in his right thumb. He wasn't supposed to return until May at the earliest, but pushed himself and was ready by Opening Day 2013.
"I feel like I've always been out to prove not just [the Cubs], but a lot of people wrong that have always labeled me as a bullpen guy," Cashner said. "I've always thought that I've had the pitches and the stuff and the durability to be a starter. But a lot of it is just proving it.
"That's something I really set out to do this year, especially after I got stabbed in the knife in the offseason. There are a lot of people out there doubting whether I can stay healthy. I was in a cast two weeks into spring training. They didn't think I'd pitch again until May.
"There was just a lot of negativity out there. This is probably one of the more determined seasons I've had, to set out and prove a lot of people wrong and show them this is me and I'm here to stay."
Cashner has done what he set out to do this season. Sunday will be his 22nd start of the season. He's already racked up 137 1/3 innings and is on pace for 173. With an 8-8 record, a 3.74 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, the 6-foot-6 kid from Texas Christian University is looking more and more like a frontline starter.
Cashner is still just 26 (he turns 27 next month) and would have made a nice piece in the Cubs' rotation, forming a solid 1-2 punch with 28-year-old Jeff Samardzija. He will always be linked with Rizzo, no matter what each player does from here on out.
While Cashner is still on a mission to prove his worth, Rizzo is set for life, inking a long-term deal earlier this season that will take him through at least 2019, with a pair of $14.5 million club options for 2020-21.
Rizzo turned 24 earlier this month and is still five weeks away from completing his first full season in the big leagues. He's hitting .230 on the season and just .178 with runners in scoring position as he deals with the expectations of the Chicago market.
"I told him to give me some of that money," Cashner joked. "That's great for him. He's a guy with huge upside. He's got 20 homers now and he's just 24.
"I feel like I've learned a lot in the last two years and I'm 26. He's got a chance to figure out a lot of things and hit for power to both sides of the field. I think he's going to be a really good player."
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Cashner said he and Rizzo have hung out and spoke a few times and understands they will be forever linked. But he hasn't been following Rizzo's career, just like he hasn't paid much attention to the Cubs.
Cashner will follow his friends -- Samardzija, James Russell, Darwin Barney, etc. -- but isn't worried about seeing what the Cubs did last night or last week. Instead, he's focused on improving himself and helping his new team pick up victories. A life on the West Coast suits the Texas native.
"I think the biggest key this year was a new sinker grip for me that I worked with our pitching coach on in spring training," Cashner said. "It's added a lot more run on my fastball, but I think my changeup this year has gotten better.
"I feel comfortable throwing my changeup in any count. That's something I didn't really have with the Cubs. I had a changeup, but it wasn't as polished as it is now. I have a lot better feel that I'm trying to do with it and the situations I'm trying to throw it in."
Over the first three seasons of his career, Cashner struck out 110 batters in 111 1/3 innings, blowing his triple-digit fastball by hitters. But in an effort to last longer in outings, he's forgone throwing his breaking ball as much and has stuck mostly to a fastball-changeup combination.
He's a completely different pitcher than the one the Cubs traded away nearly two years ago.
"I've just had some injuries and stuff in my career," he said. "But I think I've learned how to take care of myself a little bit better as far as maintenance work and working with the trainer and our new strength coach.
"It's just knowing my body and what I need to do as a starter. What I need to do to prepare myself to be successful.
"It's just a lot of things that have gone right for me this year."