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Red Sox’ Andrew Cashner contributes — from bullpen of all places

Catcher Christian Vazquez congratulates Andrew Cashner after Cashner finished off the Indians in the 10th on Tuesday night.
Catcher Christian Vazquez congratulates Andrew Cashner after Cashner finished off the Indians in the 10th on Tuesday night.(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

CLEVELAND — The Red Sox didn’t imagine this would be the outcome.

When Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made the move to acquire Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles last month, he thought it was a shrewd move for a starter. Cashner had gone through a five-game stretch for Baltimore just before being traded when he allowed just five earned runs in 32 innings. He went 3-1 and posted a 1.41 ERA in that span.

Dombrowski acted quickly, nearly two weeks prior to the trade deadline because he thought the Sox had their guy.

“He definitely gives us an improvement in that fifth spot, which we’ve scuffled for such a long time this year,” said Dombrowski during a July 13 news conference. “He’s a guy that has taken the ball and given six, seven innings on a consistent basis. We wouldn’t have made a deal we didn’t feel comfortable making.”

None of the aforementioned came to fruition for the Sox, and manager Alex Cora said Monday that Cashner would be relegated to the bullpen.

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“He understands,” Cora said. “He understands where we’re at.”

Cashner had little impact on the rotation, going 1-4 in six starts while posting an 8.01 ERA. In his last start Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels he lasted just 1⅔ innings.

“We acquired him because we thought he would help us,” Dombrowski said Tuesday afternoon, obviously singing a different tune than after the team had acquired him. “You were looking for five, six innings out of him on a consistent basis. He hasn’t done it. We were hopeful that he would. You have to try to do what you can to get back on track.”

He showed signs of life Tuesday night in Cleveland, earning his first career save by retiring the Indians in the 10th inning of a 7-6 win. He allowed a bloop single but fanned a pair.

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Before the game, Cashner acknowledged he hasn’t been a difference-maker for the Sox.

“I feel like if I pitched better this situation doesn’t happen,” said Cashner of being sent to the bullpen. “You just have to keep grinding. It’s a long season. One bad month doesn’t dictate who you are and doesn’t dictate your season.”

Cashner said he felt like he’s forced the ball a bit much since he’s been with the Sox and cutting his four-seamer. The velocity is still there but the location hasn’t been. Cashner’s walked 17 batters to go along with three hit batsmen in his 30⅓ innings with the Sox.

Dombrowski said the team didn’t have any thoughts of releasing Cashner instead of sending him to the bullpen, where his role is still undefined.

“It’s not that easy to find [guys],” Dombrowski said. “He hasn’t pitched well over the last month, but before that he pitched extremely well. He still throws 95, 96 and still has a good changeup. He’s made some bad pitches. He hasn’t pitched well. But, no, we didn’t give any thoughts of releasing him. Nobody even contemplated that.”

Perhaps there might be one positive for Cashner in all of this. Cora told him to be ready, and he responded in Tuesday’s extra-inning win. With one out in the 10th, Cashner struck out Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez to end it. It was his first save since college at Texas Christian.

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“My adrenaline hadn’t been that high in a while,” Cashner said. “It reminded me of college, closing games out. It was fun. I didn’t see myself going in that spot tonight. I was ready for it.”

“We still have a month and a half for this to happen,” Cora said he told Cashner. “And you’re going to be a big part of it.”

Cora said that was the most aggressive he’s managed since he came on board in 2018. But Tuesday doesn’t change the Sox’ reality. They are contemplating a makeshift rotation. The club planned on using Nathan Eovaldi as the opener Wednesday, but he pitched in relief Tuesday night. Brian Johnson will pitch in his spot. The Sox have had to adjust on the fly, though Dombrowski sees it differently.

“We’re also in a different spot,” Dombrowski said. “We’re going to hit a lot of off days.”

Dombrowski said the team always saw this as the time it could regroup and do things differently since the days off — four the rest of this month — would give pitchers more rest.

This team came into the season depending on its expensive rotation, and then added Cashner to fill a hole in the fifth spot. As September nears, this is the Sox’ last chance — maybe out of desperation this time — to get it right. There are a lot of moving parts in this. Cashner’s save Tuesday indicated that. He was ready, but in a role that wasn’t on the table when the Sox brought him in.

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“We’ve been scuffling with our starting pitching for an extended period,” Dombrowski said. “To me, if we’re going to get on a roll, we’re going to need our starting pitching to pitch well.”