Cain says he'd be pumped to start home opener

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Cain says he'd be pumped to start home opener

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If the Giants skip Ryan Vogelsong's first turn through the rotation, then Matt Cain would receive the game ball and the starting assignment for the Giants' home opener April 13 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It would be fitting, given what the fan base thinks of him -- and that this could be his last season as a Giant.

Whether he signs a lucrative long-term extension before the opener or not, a wide-eyed Cain said he'd relish the honor.

"That's what's great about our park," Cain said. "The fans are there every day. Even weekday games, it's a packed house. They love baseball and it's shown with ... the attendance."

Cain will be a free agent after this season and prefers not to let negotiations for an extension leak past opening day. He hasn't started a season opener as a Giant, but he's gotten the home opener once -- in 2008, when he was beaten 8-4 by the San Diego Padres and Greg Maddux.

"The first time I did it, it was a little intense," Cain said. "You're not used to all that extra stuff that goes on. You have to give yourself extra time."

Cain has some experience with that, though. Last year, he started the second home game -- which was preceded by the World Series rings ceremony.

Cain got one step closer to the regular season by throwing five shutout innings against an Oakland A's Triple-A squad at Indian School Park on Monday. While the rest of their teammates enjoyed their only day off on the Cactus League Schedule, Cain threw to Hector Sanchez and pitched around some hard contact while throwing strikes.

He allowed four hits (three doubles), struck out four and didn't walk a batter. Cain gave up consecutive doubles in the fourth inning, but remarkably, the A's failed to score. Heavy legged catcher Derek Norris, who also doubled off Tim Lincecum two days earlier, got a bad read and ended up getting thrown out at the plate on a strong relay from center fielder Francisco Peguero to second baseman Charlie Culberson to Sanchez at the plate. The catcher blocked the plate as Norris awkwardly slidbumped into him, then finally picked up the ball on the dirt and tagged him out.

"I think it caught both of those guys off guard," said Cain, who appreciated Sanchez's efforts.

Cain said he threw all his pitches and approached the start like he was trying to get outs rather than work on specific locations.

"The last start, I wasn't throwing in to lefties that well," he said. "Today, it was better."

Tim Lincecum is scheduled to start the Giants' season opener April 6 at Arizona -- his fourth consecutive opening-day assignment. Barry Zito started the season openers in 2007 and '08 and Jason Schmidt held that honor before that.

Vogelsong is building arm strength after missing time because of a strained lower back; the Giants have a day off in the middle of their season-opening road trip to Arizona and Colorado, so they could get by with four starters until the ninth game of the season, on April 15.

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants do not expect Christian Arroyo, their top hitting prospect, to get a lot of at-bats in a camp filled with veteran infielders. But the 21-year-old continues to make the most of every opportunity he gets. 

Arroyo hit a scorching single to left in his first at-bat Monday. When he came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, he poked a single into right, tying the game. Arroyo grounded out in his final at-bat, ending his perfect run this spring. With three hits in his first four at-bats down here, Arroyo is now 17-for-30 in three springs in big league camp.

“It’s the same (thing) he did last spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s getting great at-bats and playing well at shortstop. In the early go here, he’s playing the kind of ball that he was last spring. His mechanics are very solid. It’s a good foundation, good balance, and he doesn’t try to do too much. The bat stays in the zone a long time and he uses the whole field well. He’s a good hitter. He’s only going to hit for more power. The power is going to come, too.”

A move to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should help. No matter what Arroyo does this spring, the Giants will send him to Triple-A if their 40-man guys are healthy. But Arroyo’s time is coming, and it’s coming soon. 

For more on Arroyo, here’s a feature I wrote about him last week. Here’s more from the first day of the third week of spring training … 

GAME RECAP: The Giants will not go undefeated this season. They lost to the A’s for the 124th consecutive time in the Cactus League, this time by a score of 5-4 … Michael Morse got the first hit of his comeback attempt. His pinch-hit single up the middle in the seventh drove in a run. In the eighth, he lined a two-strike single to right … Brandon Belt hit his first homer of the spring. It was the 24th of his spring training career. You can see it here … Bochy was impressed with Jose Dominguez, who struck out one in a scoreless inning. 

STOCK WATCH: Orlando Calixte played right field, after previously seeing time at short and second this spring. “He’s intriguing,” Bochy said. “He showed the arm off in right field. He’s a good shortstop and plays second and third. He’s a good athlete.” The Giants plan to carry five outfielders, but if none of the right-handed bats break through, they could always carry Calixte as a super-utility guy. Remember, he’s on the 40-man roster. 

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace still is not in big league camp, or on the way. Here’s the latest on Johnny Cueto. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: This room now belongs to Anthony Reyes, as Dave Groeschner is off to South Korea with Hensley Meulens and Team Netherlands. Will Smith (elbow) threw off flat ground and everything went fine. Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) will likely resume playing third base later this week.

QUOTABLE: “To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.” — Jeff Samardzija on a pitch that helped him dominate in September. Here’s more on Samardzija and his plans for 2017. 

 

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija’s first season in San Francisco was ultimately not far from what the Giants hoped it would be. Samardzija gave them the desired durability, throwing 203 innings with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts. 

The route to those final numbers was remarkably circuitous. Samardzija had a 2.84 ERA through the season’s first two months, but that number jumped all the way up to 6.23 over his next 11 starts, seven of them losses for the team. As the Giants went into a second-half tailspin, Samardzija found his groove and helped keep them in the playoff race. He had a 2.45 ERA over his final 10 starts, earning the nod as the Game 2 starter in the NLDS. That appearance against the Cubs lasted just two innings. 

The up-and-down season showed the Giants two very different versions of a big offseason acquisition, and at times opposing hitters saw two very different Samardzijas. He went heavy on his cutter early, but when hitters started teeing off on pitches that all came in at a somewhat similar velocity, Samardzija mixed in a curveball that was completely mothballed through June. Down the stretch, when he found his form, Samardzija brought back his splitter and ignored the cutter. He threw 165 cutters in April but just two in September. On the flip side, he threw 113 splitters in September after never throwing more than 35 the first five months. 

“He found the splitter and using it more made him more of a complete pitcher,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got the four (main) pitches now. They can’t just sit on the hard stuff. He had a good year. It was a little bump there, but he had a great run and was throwing the ball really well (down the stretch). He’s one of our guys. We certainly think (that deal) is going to pay off, and it did last year. He got us deep into games consistently.”

Samardzija learned from the up-and-down year, and during his first start of the spring, he varied the repertoire. He gave up two runs in the first inning but was pleased with a curveball he threw four times — twice for called strikes, twice for foul balls. 

“If you can get it going here in Arizona, it’s going to be a pretty solid pitch for you,” he said. “(Bringing it back last year) was kind of out of necessity. I picked it up and played around with it and it felt good.”

The curveball, which he hadn't thrown since 2012, changed eye levels last season and kept hitters from loading up on pitches in the low to mid 90s. Samardzija further expanded the velocity gap by finding the feel of a splitter that had toyed with him for years.

“For me, with that splitter coming back late in the year, it’s going to be about mixing it in and seeing what feels good on that day, seeing what’s going to be the out pitch,” he said. “I had been chasing (the feel) of it since 2014. We broke it all the way back down and went back to zero. So many guys were sitting fastball. To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.”

The Giants expect the more varied approach to lead to big results in 2017, and Samardzija could subtly benefit from a change Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti made. Samardzija will pitch behind left-hander Matt Moore, not Johnny Cueto. He said he would often last season compare notes with Cueto, who like Samardzija, pitched most of his career in the NL Central. The two would often take a similar approach on the mound.

“(Opponents will) have to face a tough lefty like Moore, so they can’t have that same lineup two days in a row,” Samardzija said. “To me, that’s big.”