PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brad Brach has the coaching staff's undivided attention. Brach, who thrived as a rookie reliever for the Padres last season, came into Spring Training with a chance to carve out a bigger role for himself, and if manager Bud Black has anything to do with it, he's well on his way.
Black, one of just two big league managers who previously served as a pitching coach, spent some time discussing his second-year reliever on Sunday, and he came away with a laundry list of things that Brach can do to solidify himself as a bullpen linchpin for several years to come.
"Brad Brach can paint that fastball down and away to a righty and lefty," said Black. "He can elevate the fastball up when he needs to and throw that slider for a strike when he's behind in the count. Throw it down below the strike zone when he's ahead in the count. Not fall behind hitters like he did [Saturday]. Get ahead in the count. That's what he can do. And you know what? I've told him that."
Indeed, if you ask Brach, he'll repeat many of the same statements. The 26-year-old said Sunday that he has to pound the strike zone and be more aggressive, but he also took an interesting diversion.
Brach said that he has to be better at reading big league scouting reports, but he also has to understand when to take that advice and when to file it away and go with his best stuff. That's all part of the learning process, though, and Brach said it's an entirely natural step in his development.
"It was awesome last year," he said of pitching with the Padres. "It's a dream come true to make it up there and it's everything you can imagine. It's probably the best learning experience I could've had. It's like you're learning on the job, and you can't substitute that with anything else except being up here. You're just learning every day, and every day you go out there you learn something new."
Brach was promoted to the Majors for the first time in 2011, but he made 67 appearances with the Padres last year and logged a 3.78 ERA. The right-hander rang up more strikeouts (75) than hits allowed (50), and he said that it was hard to stay within himself at points of the season.
"A few times when I was struggling a little, it got overwhelming because you put so much pressure on yourself to do well," he said. "And anytime you do that, you're setting yourself up for failure. I think the biggest thing is to stay within myself and not really worry from outing to outing. "
Brach, a New Jersey native who was selected in the 42nd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, said that his transition to the Majors has been eased by playing with many of the same he faces he saw in the Minors. And now that he's had a taste of success, he's developed some simple goals.
"I want to be up here all year and hopefully at one point get one of the bigger innings -- the seventh or the eighth -- to be pitching those innings when you're winning," he said. "I think that's everybody's goal as a reliever. Hopefully, I can get one of those jobs, solidify it and stay there."
That's all there for the taking, and if Brach is listening, he has a manager who's looking out for him.
"I like Brach. His heart's in the right spot," said Black. "He gets it. He's competitive. I'm on him."
Cashner returns with efficient spring debut
MESA, Ariz. -- Eleven pitches. Eleven strikes.
Andrew Cashner made his spring debut with precision approaching perfection Sunday, returning to the mound for the first time since offseason surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb.
That ailment appeared to be a distant memory, as Cashner sandwiched two ground balls around a strikeout. The 26-year-old right-hander mostly threw fastballs but was able to mix in his slider and his changeup, and he said he's eager to get back on the mound as soon as possible.
"Ready to roll," said Cashner of his debut. "I'm definitely ready for more of a workload, but it will come with time. I did have surgery, so they're just looking out for my best interests."
Cashner faced infielders Christian Villanueva and Alberto Gonzalez and pitcher Travis Wood in sequence Sunday, and he peppered the strike zone with power pitches. The former first-round pick said that he was pleased with his location but said his command could have been better.
The Padres still have three weeks before the conclusion of Spring Training, which means that Cashner has plenty of time to get more innings under his belt. San Diego has been bringing him along slowly in order to protect him, but an encouraging outing or two could change the equation.
"Cash was good. It looked like he was throwing the ball like we think he can," said manager Bud Black. "I didn't see any signs of thumb, which he has shown through his workouts. It hasn't been bothering him at all. He threw a couple breaking balls [and] a lot of fastballs. It was encouraging."
Stauffer feeling strong despite rough outing
MESA, Ariz. -- When you've spent virtually an entire season on the disabled list, any day that you're healthy enough to pitch is a good day. Tim Stauffer made his third appearance of the spring on Sunday, and he said that he felt healthy and strong despite allowing four earned runs.
Stauffer, who made just one big league start last year before being shut down with an elbow problem, has continued to demonstrate that he's back to where he was before the injury. Padres manager Bud Black was pleased with the way Stauffer threw and encouraged to see him throw again.
"I thought his stuff was good. I thought his stuff was fine," said Black of Stauffer's outing. "I thought his stuff was better than the first two outings, so that's a really good sign for Stauff."
Stauffer breezed through his first inning of work, allowing just a one-out single to Nate Schierholtz. The bottom fell out in the second inning, though, as the Cubs rallied for four runs on a two-out double by Alfonso Soriano and a two-run home run over the right-field fence by Dioner Navarro.
The results may not have been perfect, said Stauffer, but he's still working on sharpening his pitches and refining his feel for the game. All in all, he said, it was just good to get his work in.
"Get ahead and execute early in the first inning. The second inning was kind of the opposite," said Stauffer. "I was falling behind, hitter's counts, and a few pitches up over the plate. It's tough to pitch and do well that way. I got behind from the get-go and it makes it a little tougher to get guys out."
Stauffer, the fourth overall choice in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, made 31 starts in his breakout season of 2011, but he followed that up with a year spent on the sidelines. The right-hander had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon late last season after throwing just five innings for the Padres.
"It was tough. You ask anybody that's been hurt or played hurt or been on the DL -- it's not fun," he said. "You want to be out on the field playing. Sitting around watching is not what we're here to do. It's just nice to be here going through a normal spring and to be treated like a normal ballplayer."
The Padres have seen Stauffer thrive in limited doses in the big leagues, and they think he can still have a strong career ahead of him as long as he stays healthy. For now, they want Stauffer to take the ball every fifth day and keep progressing through the end of the exhibition season.
"It looks as though he's regaining some of his arm strength. He's regaining the action on his pitches," said Black before the game. "I think we just hope for health for Tim, and at 30 years old, hopefully there's still a lot of years left for him to pitch. His career has been rocky on the medical side, with the shoulder for a couple years and now the elbow. Let's hope that he has a run here of a couple good years of health so we can see the type of pitching that we've seen at times during his career."
• The Padres announced Sunday that they will reassign right-handed pitching prospects Johnny Barbato and Wilfredo Boscan to the team's Minor League camp. Black said that the Padres will likely make another round of cuts on Monday morning.
• Infielder Logan Forsythe began treatment to manage the case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. "He got an injection to take a bit of the inflammation out of the bottom of his foot," said Black. "Our doctors say he should be ready in four or five or six or seven days. Right in there."
• Second baseman Jedd Gyorko made a spectacular play in the third inning of San Diego's loss. Ranging to his left, Gyorko made a tough play and a high-arcing throw to nail the runner at first.
"Good play," said Black. "Defensively, Jedd's done fine. We've talked about it regularly. We really like the way he's been turning the double play. He's got sure hands. Good feet. For us as a staff, there hasn't been a reason to believe that he can't play second base very, very effectively."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.