SAN DIEGO -- The pitching line was one to behold Tuesday for Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner, though he didn't need statistical evidence for assurance that he is making improvements as a starting pitcher.
"He keeps growing," said Padres manager Bud Black.
Facing the Braves and their burly lineup and pitcher Tim Hudson, it was Cashner who stood the tallest, pitching a career-best eight innings as the Padres defeated the Braves, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 22,330 at Petco Park.
Cashner (5-3) lowered his ERA to 3.53 in 10 starts this season all while continuing to validate the team's decision to move him into the starting rotation in late April. Cashner allowed two earned runs on six hits with one walk and five strikeouts while getting 13 ground-ball outs.
The Padres, who clinched the series with the win, got single runs in each of the first three innings against Hudson, who lost to the Padres for the first time in his career, covering 12 starts and 13 appearances.
Chase Headley hit a home run in the first inning, his first extra-base hit in 51 at-bats. Nick Hundley blooped a run-scoring double in the second and Carlos Quentin delivered an RBI single in the third before Hudson retired the next 13 hitters.
"As the game went on, he got better," Black said of Hudson.
Black could have easily been talking about Cashner, who got into trouble in the first inning, allowing three hits, including an RBI single to Freddie Freeman. But after that, Cashner buckled down, as he began to bury his changeup down in the strike zone and use his breaking ball more liberally.
"Every time I got into trouble," Cashner said, "… I told myself to keep making pitches. I kind of toned it down after the first and got my changeup down in the zone. I think that was the biggest thing."
He was still throwing hard at the end of the game, too, as Cashner caught Justin Upton looking at a called third strike to end the eighth inning, a 96-mph fastball on the outside corner that catcher Hundley didn't have to frame.
"He's an ace," said Padres reliever Joe Thatcher. "He was incredible."
Thatcher's performance merited praise, as well. He struck out the only two hitters he faced to start the ninth inning -- Freeman, who has 44 RBIs, and Brian McCann. Thatcher took the loss over the weekend against the Rockies as he allowed two game-winning hits in the four-game series.
"The slider to McCann was the best slider he's thrown all year," Hundley said.
From there, Luke Gregerson -- who allowed three ninth-inning runs against Colorado on Sunday, a game the Padres lost in 10 innings -- struck out Dan Uggla to end the game, as the Padres improved to 31-34.
As for the Braves, they have dropped their first series since losing two of three to the D-backs on May 13-15. Cashner had plenty to do with that.
"He comes up throwing 95 or 96 and has a change he can throw whenever he wants. He was throwing it 2-0 and 3-1," Freeman said. "We got him on the ropes that one inning and I grounded into a double play to kill a rally. We've got to take advantage of those and we weren't able to do that tonight.
"He was able to keep us off balance. He wasn't really throwing his heater a lot tonight. But you knew he had 96 or 97. So you've got to be aware of it. He was able to throw his slider and his changeup and he was throwing offspeed in hitter's counts."
The Padres are 7-3 in Cashner's starts. The organization has and will continue to look for ways to curtail his innings moving forward, protective of his workload following last season when he threw a combined 69 2/3 innings. He's already at 71 2/3 innings this season.
But that's a different discussion for a different day. For now, Black and the Padres are enjoying what Cashner is giving them every fifth day.
"Every start he makes is a learning experience," Black said.