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D-backs’ Gibson pleased with Cahill’s improvements in tuneup start

PHOENIX — For Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Cahill, Friday night wasn’t the standard tuneup start given most pitchers in their final outing of spring training.

Instead, this was a reversion from regular season pitching to exhibition pitching — an opportunity to retroactively right the wrongs committed in last week’s loss in Australia versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I had lots to work on, so I treated it like a normal start,” he said following the game.

If you were just looking at the box score of Cahill’s exhibition outing versus the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field, you might deem that opportunity wasted.

The right-hander failed to stray from the trail he has blazed thus far in 2014, which hasn’t been all that scenic. In six starts this year — including the one made against the Dodgers last weekend — Cahill has compiled a 7.62 ERA and 2.000 WHIP over 26.0 innings pitched. In his lone regular season start at Sydney Cricket Ground, he allowed five runs on eight hits over four innings pitched.

On Friday, Cahill, who turned 26 earlier this month, allowed three runs on eight hits to the Cubs. He threw 92 pitches over six innings and took the loss.

But the pitcher’s most important evaluator, manager Kirk Gibson, wasn’t just looking at the box score. He noticed some smaller, more subtle things over the course of the start.

“He was better tonight,” Gibson said following the game, which resulted in a 3-1 loss for his team. “He had better rhythm. Repeated his delivery better. Controlled the counts better… I think a lot of the things he was working on he did well.”

Cahill surrendered a run in the first inning, following a leadoff double from Cubs shortstop Emilio Bonifacio, but Gibson wasn’t reading in to the line score all that much.

“The first inning, he had some misfortune there,” he said. “He made a great pitch on Bonifacio and the bat basically broke down by his handle.”

The rest of the night, Gibson noted that his pitcher controlled the damage — which came in the form of 11 Cubs baserunners over six innings — well.

“He stayed with it,” the manager said. “In the past, I think he would try to overthink it.”

Ultimately, the outing would go down as a quality start, with Cahill allowing just three runs in his six innings of work.

“Overall, I thought he was much better,” Gibson said of the outing.

One of the things Cahill set out to work on in the start was picking up the pace. Rather than regrouping as often as he has been known to do in the past, stepping off the mound and gathering himself, he sought to maintain a more consistent cadence between pitches.

“I was just trying to speed the tempo up,” Cahill said afterward. “You know, there are times when you kind of have to step off and regroup, but for the most part I just tried to get the ball and throw it and not think too much. It just helps me from overthinking stuff.”

Now, with Opening Day two days away, the focus shifts. Cahill is charged not only with amending his 2014 thus far, but with improving upon last season’s up-and-down struggles.

In 26 appearances (25 starts) for the Diamondbacks in 2013, Cahill managed a 3.99 ERA to go along with an 8-10 record. He pitched 146.2 innings, thanks to a lot of stunted outings and a stint on the disable list.

In 2014, the Diamondbacks will need much more than what he has been able to give them this year and last, especially now that No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin fell to a UCL injury that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Gibson seems to think Friday was a small step in that direction for Cahill, who is next scheduled to start Thursday in the Diamondbacks’ series finale against the San Francisco Giants.