Cahill seeking mechanical consistency, bounceback year

Trevor Cahill made a career-low 25 starts last year due to a hip injury and won just eight games while posting a 3.99 ERA.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After watching Trevor Cahill throw live batting practice Saturday, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson wanted more info.

Cahill’s sinker looked good, but his changeup didn’t. His delivery was clean. Still, Gibson needed to know more.

As he headed off to another field, he stopped where third baseman Martin Prado waited on deck to face the new pitcher who had stepped in.

"How’d Cahill look?" Gibson asked.

The extra managerial interest isn’t particularly unusual at this time of spring, but there’s no question that the Diamondbacks have a particular need for Cahill to rebound and rediscover the form that made him an All-Star and outside Cy Young candidate at 22 years old.

"If you look at his track record and his history, he’s been a pretty good pitcher," Gibson said. "He’s got what a lot of people don’t have. He really does."

The D-backs had high expectations for Cahill last season, his second since being acquired from the Athletics for Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker in December 2011. Gibson even suggested that Cahill had the potential to be a 20-game winner.

I think Trevor sometimes gets over-analytical. We’re trying to minimize that, trying to get him to just stay focused on his next pitch and just keep it simpler and use his stuff.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson

Those expectations were never realized, as Cahill turned in career-worst numbers for wins (eight) and innings pitched (146 2/3) to go with a 3.99 ERA. A stint on the disabled list (hip) from July 1 to Aug. 17 limited him to a career-low 25 starts.

"There’s usually lots of ups and downs," Cahill said. "That was a little more extreme, but I don’t know. It’s just something you hope to learn from and move on."

Cahill, who turns 26 next month, can’t pin his struggles in 2013 on just one thing. There was the injury, of course, but he had struggled even when healthy. More prominent were Cahill’s command issues, which probably explain his season more than anything else.

Accordingly, this offseason has involved a lot of mechanical work for Cahill. He’s spent time working on balance in his delivery and is currently focused on finding the arm slot that works best. Last season, Cahill said, he struggled to maintain a consistent arm slot.

"Usually it just kind of fluctuates a lot," Cahill said. "It makes it hard to be consistent.

"Most of the time, I don’t really notice. Usually (catcher Miguel Montero) or somebody will point it out. It’s kind of something they pay attention to, because during games I don’t usually notice."

Presuming Cahill does find the right arm slot this spring, the challenge will then be repeating it consistently. Part of that, Cahill says, is battling the urge to tinker when something doesn’t go right.

That’s a battle Cahill has lost often the past couple seasons, whether or not he’s prepared to admit it.

Diamondbacks in camp

"I think Trevor sometimes gets over-analytical," Gibson said. "We’re trying to minimize that, trying to get him to just stay focused on his next pitch and just keep it simpler and use his stuff. I’ve watched him throw games where he’s had a low amount of secondary pitches in the game and he’s just dominated."

Gibson speaks of Cahill’s sinker, which can be devastating when it’s working and has helped him achieve a career 55.3 percent ground ball percentage. Problems seem to develop, though, when Cahill struggles for a few starts or a few innings or even just a few at-bats.

"You just get too many things on your mind," Gibson said. "You’re out there and you’re thinking about too many things, and it’s not good for anybody. I think that happened to him last year. You start searching, you care. You’re not able to execute; why not? You have the right intentions, but it makes it very complicated if you do that."

Cahill seems conscious of his tendency to overthink what he’s doing and says he’s trying to worry less about his mechanics or bad innings or whatever else.

Notably, in 2012, Cahill struggled to escape the first inning unscathed. Last year, the same sort of problems cropped up in the third inning, in which Cahill owned an 8.25 ERA. Overall, he allowed 22 runs on the season in the third inning, double his next-highest inning total.

Those particular struggles might have been tied to another thing Cahill has changed this offseason: his diet. Last spring, Cahill started eating healthier, specifically cutting out certain dairy products and gluten. Initially, he felt more energized and slept better, but the results didn’t last.

"Obviously it didn’t work out," Cahill said. "I felt healthy, but I didn’t feel as strong, I guess. It felt like I was getting tired earlier in the year than I normally would.

"You always hear stories of guys that wanted to lose weight and they lose weight and then their velocity goes way down. I didn’t think it was that much for me. I just think it was more of a longevity thing. I just felt like I couldn’t last as long or I was a little off for some reason."

Cahill isn’t going off the rails or anything. He says he learned from the experience and remains conscious of what he puts in his body but doesn’t restrict his diet so much.

"If I go out to dinner with the starters, I’m not going to order chicken and broccoli," Cahill said. "I’ll have a steak and enjoy myself. Sometimes that goes a long way, too, just eating a comfort food."

The mechanical corrections will probably go a lot further in Cahill rediscovering his past form than anything he does to his nutrition plan, but simplifying things in every aspect might prove beneficial.

However Cahill does it, the Diamondbacks simply need him to find himself again this season. Another underwhelming season from the starting rotation certainly won’t bode well for the team’s chances at returning to the postseason after back-to-back 81-81 finishes.

As frustrating as last season was for Cahill, he’s trying to use the career low as a learning experience, be it mechanical or otherwise.

"It’s just not worrying about it, not trying to change if something doesn’t go right," Cahill said. "Just find something that works and stick with it through whatever bumps in the road there are."

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