Updated: September 26, 2013 6:59AM
SAN DIEGO — Saturday was the night to see the hoped-for power center of the Cubs’ next playoff rotation.
Sunday? That’s the day to see the guy who might’ve joined Jeff Samardzija in a young power tandem.
After a second straight dominant performance by Samardzija in a 3-2 victory over the Padres, Andrew Cashner, a first-round pick by the Cubs in 2008, takes another shot at showing the Cubs’ regime that it was wrong to give up on him as fast as it did.
Cashner, viewed as an injury risk who wouldn’t hold up as a starting pitcher, was one of the first holdover players traded when Theo Epstein took over almost two years ago. He was dealt to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo.
“I feel like I’ve always been out to prove not just them but a lot of people wrong that have always labeled me as a bullpen guy,” said Cashner, who also has proved for the first time in three years that he can stay healthy.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve had the pitches and the stuff and the durability to be a starter, but a lot of it is just proving it.”
He has done it well enough to be making his 22nd start of the season Sunday, having pitched more innings this year than his previous three-season career total and often looking dominant. All of this despite getting a late rotation debut because of a freak hunting-knife injury in the winter that delayed his spring work.
“This was probably one of the more determined seasons I’ve had,” he said, “to set out and prove a lot of people wrong and show them that this is me, and that I’m here to stay.”
Padres manager Bud Black, who made 296 starts in a 15-year playing career, didn’t have to be proved wrong.
“Looking at his body, looking at his delivery, it looked to me like this guy should stay healthy,” said Black, who intends to manage Cashner’s workload down the stretch but keep him in the rotation. “I think his natural strength, his athleticism and his delivery are going to keep him healthy.”
The shoulder issues that wiped out all but one start of Cashner’s last season with the Cubs in 2011 and raised most of the red flags haven’t resurfaced.
So did the Cubs get it wrong with Cashner? Did they give up too soon and give up a difference-maker?
Not even Black or Cashner will say that. And the Cubs still believe they have their middle-of-the-order lefty power source of the future in Rizzo.
But watching Samardzija (8-11) shut down the Nationals on Monday and survive the Padres for eight innings makes it easy to wonder what another big, young power pitcher at the front of the rotation might do for this rebuilding project — especially in the wake of Matt Garza’s trade to the Rangers.
Cashner sees it. He just sees it in San Diego.
“I feel like our starting rotation can take us where we want to go,” he said.
He figures to be a big part of that, a guy Black said is just now learning what it takes to do it in the major leagues every fifth day — a guy with a 3.74 ERA who has actually pitched even better (3.32) with little support during a three-game losing streak.
One he plans to snap Sunday.
“I’m ready,’’ Cashner said. ‘‘I didn’t pitch that well in Chicago the last time [May 1], but I feel like I’ve got a good feel for a lot of things right now. I’m looking to shove it up their [rear] tomorrow.”