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Cashner stellar in 'heartfelt' start vs. Astros

MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers want to do what they can to take the minds of those affected by Hurricane Harvey off the storm for a few hours each night. Pitcher Andrew Cashner comes from Conroe, Texas, a borough of Houston, so he had plenty of personal understanding of that intention.

Cashner turned in his best outing of the year, with a season-high eight innings and six strikeouts, and just four baserunners allowed in Texas' 8-1 win over the Astros on Wednesday.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers want to do what they can to take the minds of those affected by Hurricane Harvey off the storm for a few hours each night. Pitcher Andrew Cashner comes from Conroe, Texas, a borough of Houston, so he had plenty of personal understanding of that intention.

Cashner turned in his best outing of the year, with a season-high eight innings and six strikeouts, and just four baserunners allowed in Texas' 8-1 win over the Astros on Wednesday.

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"I think the whole series is special," Cashner said of the Rangers-Astros set that was moved to St. Petersburg. "We're talking things that we've never seen before in the state of Texas. People have lost everything. Just thinking about that, it's definitely heartfelt. I just tried to come out and pitch for everybody watching back home."

The Rangers right-hander keeps a home in Port O'Connor, on the coast a few hours south of Houston. He and his family boarded up the house and he said it went largely undamaged. Cashner knows many families have not been as fortunate to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Harvey. In the face of such dramatic circumstances in his home state, Cashner had to focus on pitching.

With a sinker he felt was clicking as soon as he left the bullpen to throw his first pitch, Cashner delivered.

"Very impressive outing for Andrew," manager Jeff Banister said. "Pounded the two-seam, four-seam fastball in. Really didn't allow these guys to get their arms extended. The right-on-right changeup played very well. Six strikeouts looking -- it looked like they didn't pick the ball up very well off of him."

The six strikeouts might have been the most surprising part of Cashner's night. While he's punched out plenty in the past, in 2017, he's fanned 4.5 per nine innings. That would be the second-lowest rate in the Majors if he had enough innings to qualify. But spotting pitches makes a world of difference.

"He had command on both sides of the plate, enough offspeed [pitches] for strikes, kept them off the velo at times," Banister said. "When you can pitch inside, and you can command the inner portion of the plate and then expand in and not allow these guys to get extended, they've got to honor both sides. Hitters typically pick a side of the plate. He was able to put pitches where he needed to."

Cashner has been in command for two months now, even without strikeouts. In nine outings since July 5, he has a 2.58 ERA and has won five games. His ERA over that time is sixth-lowest in the American League for pitchers with eight starts or more. He's thrown quality starts in all but two of those nine starts.

To put it simply, he is providing a major boost to the Texas rotation right now, and the surge is more than welcome as the Rangers try to push for the postseason. Offense carries the load for much of the year across baseball, but pitching has a way of increasing in importance as fall approaches and the games grow in importance.

"We need to play quality baseball. We need for our hitters to step up when we have run-scoring opportunities; we've got to play clean defense," Banister said. "And it really comes down to our starters on the mound giving us opportunities. And none better than [Cashner] tonight."

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Rangers on Wednesday.

Texas Rangers, Andrew Cashner