Cain gives back fair value on near-perfect afternoon


Cain gives back fair value on near-perfect afternoon

SAN FRANCISCO Matt Cain thought for a moment on thequestion, even if he knew the answer.

Yes, he would dwell a bit on that one slapped single thatPittsburgh Pirates pitcher James McDonald coaxed through the left side. Hedreplay that outside fastball in his mind a time or two before hitting thepillow.

Its something Ive always wanted to do, throughout highschool and Little League, Cain said.

Wait. Cain has never thrown a no-hitter? Not even againstCollierville High or Dyer County? Not against a bunch of Tennessee 10-year-oldschasing butterflies in the outfield?

Nope, Cain said. Never had one.

Once again, Cain nearly had it -- and so much more. In frontof a sellout crowd on a surprisingly resplendent Friday afternoon, he retired27 of 28 batters. McDonald was his only baserunner. That streaking single wasthe only blemish on what wouldve been the 21st perfect game inmajor league history.

In 129 years, no Giant has thrown one.

Yeah, youll think about it, that you gave up one hit,said Cain, who owns one-hitters over the As (in 2006) and Diamondbacks (in10). But its a win and you take it.

Yes, everyone will. Theyll take Cains 11-strikeout,no-walk dominance. Theyll take Buster Posey turning a poignant reunion into alove fest with his RBI double off the wall. Theyll take Aubrey Huffs homerinto the arcade and another multi-hit game from Melky Cabrera, too.

Theyll take it all in the Giants 5-0 victory.
RECAP: Cain brilliant in Giants' home-opening win

Mostly, though, theyll take their grounded right-hander withthe Tennessee roots, who didnt sit well with the way he loosened the leash inhis previous start against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So he stared down the Pirates with choke-chain stuff.

Weve all seen him locked in, said Giants manager BruceBochy, of his right-handed ace with the perfect postseason ERA. Thats as goodas hes been.

Bochy said he knew from the first inning. So did Posey, eventhough he let Hector Sanchez warm up Cain in the bullpen. Most players willplay coy with something as fickle as a perfect game. Theyll say they werentthinking about it or it didnt occur to them.

Posey was honest. He had it in his mind very, very early.

Yeah, I was pretty aware of it, Posey said. He wasthrowing so good, you thought he had a shot.

Cain wasnt just setting down the Pirates in order throughthe first 17 hitters. He was blowing them away. Through the first six innings,he generated 18 swings and misses eight on his fastball, eight on hischangeup and two on his slider.

The changeup made all the difference. Its the pitch thatturned Cain from a young thrower into a true artist. Its the reason the Giantshad no buyers remorse after handing him a five-year, 112.5 million extensiontwo weeks ago.

Its a pitch that Cain couldnt handle until he startedplaying catch with Jason Schmidt during the 2006 season.

You know, I think its just a confidence thing, Cain toldme. I always wanted to find a way to throw a changeup. All through the minorleagues, I tried a lot of different things. It just never felt comfortable.Then Schmitty showed me a grip that I liked and I ran with it. Its a two-seamgrip, just getting your two middle fingers to sit right on those seams.

It wasnt an instant discovery. As Cain wryly noted,Throwing it and trusting it are not the same thing.

Cain and Posey knew to trust it from the beginning againstthe Pirates desperately swinging lineup. First, he had to command his hard,darting fastball to set it up. He did, throwing it to all four quadrants of thezone.

He just does such a good job with his arm action, Poseytold me. Hes got deception. A good changeup always starts with that, but whenits got movement, thats when its a really great pitch.

And how was it moving?

Straight down, said Posey, with a sober edge.

Cain was speed-walking toward an intersection with history.The few pitches the Pirates put into play hard resulted in outs and a growing sense of fate. Angel Paganran down Casey McGehees deep drive to center field in the second inning.Shortstop Brandon Crawford made an even more remarkable play in the fourth, when Andrew McCutchen hit a jam shot thatskidded under Cains glove. Crawford made a barehand pickup and throw to nipthe fleet runner.

Crawford said he wasnt thinking about preserving theperfect game at the time. An inning or two later, he realized what hiscontribution might have meant.

Cain, entering his confrontation with McDonald with two outsin the sixth, said he was definitely aware of it. At a 2-1 (count), Imthrowing to the outer third of the plate and he put a good swing on it. He canhit and I knew that going in.

Undaunted, Cain retired the last 10 hitters in order. AfterCrawford scooped Alex Presleys grounder for the final out, Cain calmly pointedat Posey and gave him a quick tap on the back.

Then, he said, You start letting that check in and realizewhat happened. Its definitely exciting to be back in the city.

That city showered him with cheers once again. Cain willbe here to soak up many more ovations after signing his extension. He is raising a young family. He has the respect of his teammates, the admiration of his coaches and the devotion of a passionate fan base.

Hell get ninefigures. On Friday, he gave back fair value.

Cain hasnt thrown a perfect game, or a no-hitter. But otherthan that, he really does have it all.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”