SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A month into spring training, it’s still somewhat difficult to get a read on what the Giants need to see from Matt Cain. Team officials continue to view Cain as the frontrunner for the fifth starter job, but they insist that Cain needs to earn it down here in the desert.
What exactly does that mean when Cain takes the mound? On Friday, you could see both sides of the argument on pretty much a hitter-by-hitter basis.
At times Cain was good, with his velocity sitting in the now-normal 91 mph range and his secondary pitches generating swings and misses. He struck out five in his final three innings, twice getting talented young Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and once whiffing DJ LeMahieu, the league’s reigning batting champ.
But when all was said and done, Cain walked off the mound having allowed nine hits and three runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring ERA dropped a bit, but it’s still 8.40 in five starts. In 15 innings, he has given up 25 hits.
“I’m throwing the ball where I want to,” Cain said. “It feels good coming out. I know that I’m progressing from start to start and I know I’m getting to where I need to get for the season to start. That’s something that’s not bothering me. It’s keep doing that. I think I can do a better job of (when you) get two outs, put away the inning. And also do a better job of putting guys away when I get two strikes.”
The third inning showed the inconsistency that has plagued Cain all spring. After giving up two runs in the second, he opened the third by striking out LeMahieu and then getting Story with a good slider. But minor leaguer Jordan Patterson singled and Stephen Cardullo drove an RBI double into the gap. Cain then froze Pat Valaika for his third strikeout of the inning.
“That’s going to happen,” Cain said. “Even in that situation, I made a pitch to Patterson that I wanted to make and he did a good job of putting a swing on it. The same thing to Cardullo — he hit a changeup that wasn’t a bad pitch, and he did a good job, where a lot of guys hit that ball to shortstop. Those guys are obviously doing a good job as well. You can’t sit there and try to nitpick — you get two outs, striking guys out, you want to finish the inning, but it’s not always going to be that way. You’d love for it to always be that way but it doesn’t work that way.”
While Cain has yet to get optimum results, he has found a huge positive in the days between outings. Cain is finally healthy, and that has allowed him to tinker in the bullpen instead of worrying about how his arm will respond. He said he is trying to get a little bit more creative in how he attacks hitters, with one example being taking a few ticks off his slider to try and miss more barrels.
“I’m able to fine-tune things,” he said. “Before I wasn’t doing that. I was just trying to get through a bullpen (session) or get through starts. I was just trying to go out there and compete, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be able to do physically and mentally.”