PHOENIX – This is what Bruce Bochy loves about Matt Cain:
He gave up three homers in an inning for the first time Tuesday. He’s allowed nine over a four-start span. He finished April with a 6.49 ERA -- his highest in any month since July of 2007, when he was just a 22-year-old pup.
But when the Giants overcame his fourth inning set to a John Philip Souza composition, and when they snapped their five-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cain smiled as broadly as everyone else and his high fives were just as firm.
It didn’t escape Bochy: This was the sixth time their Opening-Day ace took the mound, and this was the first time the Giants ended the day with a victory.
“That’s what you love about him,” Bochy said. “He was excited we won the game. Doesn’t matter what the numbers are. He just wants to win. He’s going to get on track, we know it. But this year, as a staff, it is strange how one inning has been getting us.”
Cain finds it just as strange. He had thrown 1,569 innings in his career and had never allowed three home runs in any of them. Then came the fourth, and three pitches – a first-pitch fastball to Jason Kubel, a 1-1 changeup to Eric Chavez and a 1-2 fastball to Miguel Prado – that sailed over the fence.
Cain had to tip his hat to Chavez, who took a changeup off the plate and served it to the opposite field. He didn’t think his fastball to Prado was that bad either, calling it “on the black, or almost on the black.”
When he goes back through these last four starts, he finds other home run pitches that weren’t worthy of a sneer. Yet the numbers are on the page: Nine homers over four starts – matching the total number he gave up in all of 2011.
Those home runs accounted for 14 of the 16 earned runs he’s allowed over the last four starts.
“It is a little weird,” said Cain, mentioning one pop up from David Dejesus that the Wrigley wind lifted over the fence. “Do you really understand it? No, but you get over it. You don’t worry about how many you give up. You just try to make pitches and move on.”
Many pitchers give up home runs because they fall behind in the count. That hasn’t been the case with Cain. Of the nine homers he’s allowed, only one came with a three-ball count.
Here’s the full list:
0-0 fastball (91 mph) to Kubel
1-1 changeup to Chavez
1-2 fastball (93 mph) to Prado
3-1 fastball (92) to Paul Goldschmidt
0-1 slider to Ryan Braun
0-0 fastball (91 mph) to Yovani Gallardo
2-2 curveball to Jonathan Lucroy
0-0 fastball (89 mph) to David Dejesus
1-2 slider to Starlin Castro
Maybe this is just the math balancing out. For years, Cain has operated with a suppressed home run ratio on fly balls. It’s been at unusually low levels in his road starts, too, so it’s not just a manifestation of AT&T Park.
Cain has noted that his two-seamer has tended to leak back over the middle, and he was working to make an adjustment to correct it. He said he’d “keep tweaking things.”
But when I asked him if he’s thinking about his mechanics more than usual during a start, he answered without hesitation. In between starts, maybe. But not when he’s staring at major league hitters.
“I used to be like that and I think I’ve grown out of it,” Cain said. “When you get out there, it’s too much (to think about mechanics). You’ve just gotta think about competing.”
At least Cain doesn’t have to think about the Giants being winless in his starts.
“We were in an ugly skid there,” said Cain, who gave back a 3-0 lead in that four-run fourth. “As a pitcher, you’re pissed you gave up a lead. But it lifts you up every time when the guys score another run. That just kind of tells you to suck it up and keep throwing and let the guys do what they’re going to do.”