SAN DIEGO -- Much of the talk this season has centered on Andrew Cashner growing into an ace.
That discussion temporarily was put on hold Wednesday during an ugly first inning fueled by two Everth Cabrera errors. The shortstop's miscues helped lead to three Royals runs and a 43-pitch first inning for Cashner.
The long-term afternoon result was predictable. Cashner lasted only four innings, his shortest stint since last July 5, and the Royals handed the Padres an 8-0 loss in the rubber game, sending San Diego to its sixth defeat in eight games.
"We didn't help Cash out at all in the first inning," manager Bud Black said. "When you're not scoring runs, there is little margin for [error]. It elevated his pitch count and he had to work extra hard just to make it through the first inning."
Consequently, Black said, "we were behind the eight-ball right from the start. When you're not scoring, you have to play good defense."
A Padres team that has had to scratch for runs all too often this season cannot afford to make many mistakes. So when Cabrera booted Alcides Escobar's ground ball two batters into the contest, and then had trouble digging Alex Gordon's ground ball out of his glove -- followed by dropping it -- three batters later, the Padres were off-balance before they had broken a sweat.
"It was really tough for me and for my teammates," Cabrera said. "For the kind of pitcher Cashner is, I feel bad."
Cabrera's first error moved Nori Aoki to second base following his leadoff single and set up Eric Hosmer's two-run single.
"I was thinking go to second," Cabrera said. "And I missed the ball."
Cabrera's second error moved Hosmer to third and put Gordon on first, setting up Danny Valencia's RBI single.
"I was thinking go to third," Cabrera said. "And I was too quick, and I missed the ball."
The rest of the afternoon didn't go so well for the Padres, who surrendered another run in the eighth on a Rene Rivera passed ball and were blanked by James Shields, Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman for a Major League-leading sixth time.
Cashner entered the game with a 2-4 record and 2.72 ERA. He had not worked fewer than six innings in any of his seven starts, and in a one-hit shutout of Detroit on April 11, he compiled the highest score registered by a pitcher this season in the Bill James Game Score equation at 94.
The last time Cashner worked fewer than four innings came when he lasted just two last July 5. Mostly, he has been very good this year, and occasionally brilliant, sans Wednesday's outing. He allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts in taking his fifth loss.
"I made some good pitches," Cashner said. "I just wasn't able to recover."
Wrapped around Cabrera's errors were Aoki, Hosmer and Valencia singles and a walk to Jarrod Dyson. It took Cashner nine batters to weave his way through the first-inning jam.
Then in the third, Gordon ripped a leadoff double, moved to third on a bunt and scored on Mike Moustakas' fly ball to center. That made it 4-0. The Padres have only scored as many as four runs in two of their past eight games.
Meanwhile, a second inning that could have gotten the Padres back into the game was short-circuited by more offensive ineptitude. After Seth Smith's infield hit and Cameron Maybin's single put Padres on first and second with none out, Yonder Alonso and Rivera both went down on strikes.
Then, Alexi Amarista beat out an infield single to first base. But Hosmer, after making an exceptional play in fielding the ball behind the bag, saw Maybin -- running with two out - already had scooted around second. Heads-up, Hosmer fired the ball behind him, and Maybin tried to dive back to the bag, but Escobar applied the tag and that was that. Inning over, as the call was ruled to stand following a replay challenge by Black.
The Padres manager credited Hosmer with making a tremendous play, however, rather than citing Maybin for a mistake.
"The ball was down the line and Cam had his back to the play," Black said. "He thought he was going to score on the play. He scrambled like hell to make it back."
Scramble mode is exactly where the Padres now find themselves with the Marlins arriving for a four-game series starting Thursday and mounting frustration over a lack of offensive punch.
Questions surrounding Carlos Quentin's availability are becoming more frequent. Quentin, on an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A El Paso as he recovers from a bruised left knee, flied out in a pinch-hitting appearance for the Chihuahuas on Wednesday in Fresno.
"There's got to be a point we feel he's in a state to contribute both physically and endurance-wise," Black said. "He hasn't played in a good six or seven weeks."
Shields, the latest starting pitcher to stymie the Padres, said he didn't particularly think his stuff was that good on Wednesday.
"I was erratic, all over the place, getting behind in counts a lot," Shields said. "It was just a grind day, but sometimes you've got to go out there without your good stuff and compete."
Cashner, who said his club is in a team-wide "funk" right now, added that it is just one of those times right now when "everybody kinds of talks to each other, and we're trying to pick each other up."
Said Maybin: "We came out flat and didn't have a lot of energy. It's tough to come back against a pitcher like James Shields when you give him early runs."
Maybin noted that despite the lack of offense, the Padres remain only five games under .500.
"Win a couple of series," he said, "and you're right back to where you want to be."
Scott Miller is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.