What's wrong with Matt Cain?

What's wrong with Matt Cain?
August 7, 2012, 4:46 am
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BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS Thirteen. That was Matt Cains unlucky numberMonday night.

There are plenty more numerals of note you could citeafter Cain couldnt escape the sixth inning in an 8-2 loss to the St. LouisCardinals at Busch Stadium.

The Giants have lost six of his last nine starts since the perfect game. He has a 4.40 ERA over that span. He gave up his 17th home run of 2012 after surrendering just nine all of last season.

Cain would appear to be in a genuine funk. He certainly appeareddispleased while managing clipped answers to reporters after the game.

But when you examine his start pitch by pitch, 13 of themstand out the ones the Cardinals fouled off with two strikes.

The Cards fouled off a whopping 37 of 114 pitches in all, and 13of those prolonged at-bats. Matt Holliday spoiled a pair of two-strike pitchesbefore doubling on a curveball to start the fateful, three-run sixth inning.Rafael Furcal, who had a 10-pitch at-bat in the second inning, fouled off a 3-2pitch with runners going before drawing a walk.

And Matt Carpenter fouled off a 1-2 changeup before reachingout to turn a fastball on the black into a two-run single.

So its no surprise, when asked what he could improve from his past few losses, Cain responded: Putting away guys better.

Easier said than done especially against the Cardinals.

The only way you can go about it, maybe is just try toexpand a little more, catcher Buster Posey said. But you can get where theyre eitherspoiling them or taking them. Its a good lineup and I thought Matt threw theball well. Even the two-out single was a pretty quality pitch, I thought.

So did manager Bruce Bochy, who had to know the second-guessquestion was coming: Why did he leave Cain (with 110 pitches, including 26 inthe sixth) out on the mound to face Carpenter with the bases loaded in thesixth, especially since the left-handed pinch hitter was 3 for 3 against him inhis career?

You wouldnt want to come out, would you? Bochy said.

Cain has earned plenty of capital and trust over the years.Nobody would deny that. Bochy decided to spend some of it.

Hes a strike away from a pretty good start, Bochy said.

Instead, he was charged with five earned runs in 5 23 innings. Now the questions will come, and they will be obvious: Cainhas a 4.40 ERA since he threw his perfect game, with history riding on each ofthose 125 stressful pitches. He had a 2.18 ERA through that start, and the Giants had been 10-3 in his assignments. Now they've lost six of nine.

Is there a correlation?

Im going out there to do a job, said Cain, stayingultra-laconic. Thats the only way I look at it.

Is he feeling healthy and strong?

Yep.

Cain is always an interesting subject to evaluate. Those who use advanced metrics have been forever fascinatedby his suppressed home runfly ball ratio, sometimes calling it unexplainableor unsustainable but certainly calling it an outlier.

Last year, just 2.9 percent of Cains fly balls were homeruns; the NL average was 7.9 percent. It was the most extreme example in whatsbeen a career trend: The league ratio has never been lower than 7.1 percent since Cain broke into the majors.Cains ratio had never been higher than 6.7 percent.

This season, perhaps hes deviating to the norm. His home runflyball ratio is 7.7 percent, nestled right up against the NL average of 7.9percent.

But for all the hmmmmmms those numbers might generate, the gopherball isnt what dug Cain's Monday night.The one home run he allowed came on a first-pitch curveball down that CarlosBeltran -- a pretty good hitter, we should point out -- golfed over the fence.

Actually, Cain managed to rebound well after a 31-pitchsecond inning, which included Furcals 10-pitch battle. He retired 10 of 11hitters and entered the sixth in a tie game.

You look at him inning by inning, you watch if his mechanicsare off, Bochy said. The last start (against the Mets at AT&T Park), hewas out of sync and hell tell you that. But I thought tonight he was muchbetter. He had good stuff tonight.

But the Cardinals hitters had a good approach tomatch.

Its not a new occurrence. Thats how you hit and scoreruns, said Ryan Theriot, who counted most of these Cardinals among his WorldSeries teammates last season. You spoil the good pitches, the pitcherspitches, and work the count. (Jon) Jay, Furcal thats how you create ralliesand get pitchers out of the game. Its a good night when you can foul balls offlike that.

And on the flipside? What did the Giants manage against Jake Westbrook?

Sinker, cutter, curveball he stayed out of the middle ofthe plate, Theriot said. Thats what were talking about. If you dont fightthose pitches off, its going to make for a long night. I wasnt able to dothat, and Jake was making good pitches.

The Giants will have to do a better job spoiling thosepitches, and making some loud contact, the rest of the series. The Cardinals lineup is not going to let upagainst Barry Zito, who has house-of-horrors numbers in three career starts atBusch Stadium. And with the Dodgers simultaneously playing the radioactiveRockies, losing three of four here in the shadow of the Gateway Arch or worse could make quite an unfortunate fender bender in the NL West standings.

Cains next start will come Saturday against said Rockies. They dont want to put him in positionto close a gushing wound.

Were confident every time he steps on the mound, or thenext guy, Posey said. That doesnt change. I think we feel good withwhoevers out there.

They should be. They've been spoiled for a long time.