SAN DIEGO – A day after Matt Cain was pulled in the first inning for the first time in his career, Giants manager Bruce Bochy insisted that his opening-day starter has no health issues.
Bochy pointed to the fact that Cain played catch on Thursday. Cain is available to appear in this four-game series at Petco Park, too, although the manager said it would only be in an emergency.
The proof, however, will come when Bochy lists his second-half rotation alignment. If Cain doesn’t start the first game July 19 against Arizona, then it’ll be obvious something is amiss.
It appeared obvious enough Wednesday, when Bochy had Mike Kickham begin warming up just 20 pitches into Cain’s outing. Cain ended up throwing 36 pitches to seven batters, retiring just two of them.
His fastball is usually in the 91-93 mph range. He was anywhere from 89-92 against the Mets. But he had trouble throwing his slider for strikes, and Bochy claimed he wanted to err on the side of caution after his opening-day ace “worked hard” in his previous start. (Cain only lasted 2 1/3 innings in his previous outing against the Dodgers, giving up eight runs. But he threw 75 pitches over a short span.)
The back-to-back starts are a pair of red flags, no doubt – especially for a pitcher who has loose bodies in his right elbow.
Most pitchers who have thrown 1,000 big league innings have some chips or spurs in their elbows. But as sources told me a couple years ago, the Giants were sufficiently scared off by Cain’s elbow fragments that they took a year off his contract when they negotiated his first multiyear extension in the spring of 2007. Cain originally was going to get a five-year deal through 2013; the Giants reopened negotiations and shortened it to four years plus an option after the medicals came back and showed the elbow fragments.
A pitcher can compete with bone chips for years with no problems. But if one happens to lodge in the wrong place, it can cause inflammation or an impingement – a limiting of the range of motion.
Bochy acknowledged Cain’s elbow fragments are still there, but “it hasn’t affected him as far as I know. He’s fine. He was just throwing right there.”
There won't be any exhales from the fan base, though, until Cain slots back in the rotation with no apparent delays and looks like his old self again. Bochy said the coaching staff and Cain already have gone over video of his last start against the Mets.
“Yeah, we went back and looked at it,” Bochy said. “He had trouble with his slider. He said even he kicked himself over not using the fastball a little more. From my perspective he just came off a start when he worked hard. I didn’t want him to get checked out. I just said I’m not going to take any chances.”