SAN DIEGO -- The way Andrew Cashner was spotting fastballs on the outside corner Friday night, even Miguel Cabrera in midseason form might not have been able to do a whole lot.
"It looks like it's going to be outside, and it comes back to the outside corner," Cabrera said, echoing many of his Tiger teammates after Cashner's one-hit shutout dropped Detroit in a 6-0 loss to the Padres Friday night at Petco Park.
This, however, is not Cabrera in midseason form, and he's the first to admit it. He's also comfortable admitting that he had his pitch Friday.
It was the one real rally the Tigers put together against Cashner, putting runners at the corners with one out after Rajai Davis broke up Cashner's no-hit bid, stole second and third base and distracted Cashner enough for Ian Kinsler to draw a walk. Up came Cabrera in a situation where he normally thrives.
It was a first-pitch fastball from Cashner, but instead of catching the outside corner, it caught the plate. It's the kind of pitch that Cabrera at his best would have lined to right field with authority, testing the new dimensions in the recently reconfigured park.
His swing, however, wanted to pull the ball.
"He threw me a good pitch to hit," he said. "What can I say, man? The way I'm swinging, I can't do too much. I'm not swinging good right now."
Cabrera grounded it to third base, where Chase Headley started an inning-ending double play. Cashner, the Padres' ace acquired from the Cubs a few years ago while manager Brad Ausmus was a special assistant in San Diego's front office, didn't allow another baserunner the rest of the way.
Cashner completed his second career shutout with a strikeout of Cabrera, seemingly caught debating whether to swing or take a pitch. By that point, the outcome was no longer in such dispute.
"He pitched extremely well tonight," Ausmus said. "He's always been a hard thrower. His slider was obviously effective, his changeup. I know he's not a household name, but he's somebody I'm familiar with. I know what he's capable of. He was outstanding."
Ausmus also knows what Cabrera is capable of doing, which is why he's unconcerned.
"I mean, hitters are going to go through periods of time where they hit the ball, they don't hit the ball well, they get hits, they don't get hits," Ausmus said. "I realize it doesn't happen to Miggy as often, but it's still going to happen."
It's a tribute to Cabrera's production, especially over the last few years, that an eight-game stretch looking mortal can cause such surprise. For all the praise he earned during his Triple Crown season of 2012, he endured an 0-for-21 slump in April that had some fans wondering if Cabrera needed to sit for a day or two to regroup.
There are plenty of struggling hitters who would take an 8-for-32 start with three extra-base hits. It's in the look of Cabrera's swing, often with both hands on the bat following through, and the look of his approach. The opposite-field opportunism isn't evident at the moment.
It's not his health, he said. He went through Spring Training feeling fine coming off core muscle surgery, and he had his usual approach at the plate. His movement around third base confirms his health, including a mobile play to his left on a ground ball Friday night.
Sometimes, though, habits can be tough to break. Cabrera isn't sure whether he's stuck in habits from last season, when he played through injuries down the stretch, but he knows he's having a tough time correcting himself.
"I'm feeling good, but my swing is not right," he said. "In BP and when I work in the cage, I feel normal. When I come into the game, I see how I pull a lot of balls to third base and shortstop."
History shows he'll get his approach where he wants, but it's a process. The swing, even for a future Hall of Famer, can sometimes take on a personality of its own.
"My swing, he wants to pull the ball right now," Cabrera said.
His swing wasn't the only one that couldn't do much Friday night.
Not only did Cashner hold the Tigers hitless for the first 5 1/3 innings, a walk and a Chase Headley throwing error comprising the lone baserunners in that stretch, Detroit hitters had few if any quality swings off him. That went especially for Cabrera, who hit three ground balls to the left side against him. Headley's error put Cabrera on base and continued the inning for Victor Martinez, who walked. But Cashner overpowered Austin Jackson for a strikeout to end the threat.
Cashner not only went two trips through the lineup without a hit, but allowed just two balls hit out of the infield. He struck out five of Detroit's first 11 batters, sending the side down in order in the third inning on three fastballs on the outside edge. It was the workhorse pitch for him in a place he could consistently pinpoint, drawing the call from home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
It's the location, Davis said, more than the movement.
"I just think he spotted it really well," Davis said. "It was really a tough pitch to hit, and he stuck with it."
The ball that broke up the no-hitter, too, was about location. Davis came up with one out in the sixth and belted a line drive through the middle, just out of second baseman Jedd Gyorko's grasp.
Tigers starter Rick Porcello tried to keep pace, but struggled to keep his pitches down for most of his 6 1/3 innings. Five of the 10 hits off him went for extra bases, all hit in the air. Two of them came from Headley, who doubled in Gyorko in a two-run first before sending a hanging slider out to right for a two-run homer in the sixth.