Matt Cain not planning on being a member of the Giants' bullpen

Matt Cain not planning on being a member of the Giants' bullpen

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Madison Bumgarner has the same memory as many of the Giants who checked into spring training Monday morning. On his first ever day in big league camp, eight years ago, Bumgarner met Matt Cain.

“He made a point of coming up to me to speak,” Bumgarner recalled.

That’s been Cain’s role for the better part of a decade. He is the longest-tenured Giant, and these days that means a bit more than it used to. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have retired. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have moved on, along with stalwarts like Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan. Cain is the ultimate veteran in a clubhouse full of relative newcomers and prospects, but the 32-year-old also finds himself in a spot not often reserved for pitchers heading for Year 13. 

It’s no secret that Cain has to compete for his job this spring, and while he’s the frontrunner for the fifth starter spot, Cain will find tough competition in youngsters like Ty Blach and Tyler Beede, as well as holdovers such as Albert Suarez. 

“Good. That’s good,” Cain said Monday. “Let’s go with it. That’s a good competition. Let’s all compete for it. That’s fine with me.”

Cain already has a leg up, and not just because he has made 308 starts in orange and black. It’s hard to get a true read on ability in Arizona, where breaking balls often don’t break and Double-A kids stroll to the plate intent on hacking. Cain won’t need to post a 2.50 ERA this spring, he’ll simply need to prove that he’s healthy and he can command the ball. In that respect, he’s off to a good start.

“The biggest thing is having a normal spring,” he said. “I haven’t had that the last couple of years.”

Cain isn't coming off elbow surgery this time around. He is not dealing with a cyst on his pitching arm, either. He had a normal offseason, traveling with his family and starting a throwing program in December. He didn’t go back and watch film of his 2016 starts because he didn’t need to. The numbers — a 5.64 ERA in 21 appearances — speak for themselves, but Cain was able to find positives in certain outings. His fastball velocity was generally fine, and there were innings and stretches of starts where he felt like his old self. Then it would unravel. 

“It’s all there, everything is still there,” he said of his repertoire. “It’s just about not having the huge waves that I had last year. It was really good moments and really terrible moments.”

At FanFest on Saturday, pitching coach Dave Righetti said he feels Cain can still get through a lineup twice and often a third time, noting that he just needs to clear a hurdle that’s keeping him from getting deep into games. And if not, that’s fine too, Righetti said. 

The Giants will more often than not take five-and-dive if that’s the best case scenario. They have a deep rotation, with four guys at the front end who expect to sail past 200 innings. Cain, as always, has that same goal, but the Giants are realistic after a series of down years. They are also at times hopeful. 

“In a perfect world, Matt Cain would be Matt Cain and he would take that spot,” general manager Bobby Evans said recently. 

That’s the expectation Cain has for himself. He shied away from talk about his future on Monday, saying this being the final guaranteed year of his contract “doesn’t matter.” He’s not thinking of following Affeldt and Lopez or about the possibility that his final years in the big leagues might be spent in a much different role. 

“The bullpen is always a possibility for anyone,” Cain said, “But that’s not where I plan on being.”

Giants spring training Day 9: Bumgarner, Melancon face hitters

Giants spring training Day 9: Bumgarner, Melancon face hitters

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Madison Bumgarner aims to get all 27 outs every time he takes the mound, but on Tuesday the coaching staff gave the ace a nice view of the man who will help out if his nights are cut short. 

Bumgarner threw his first live batting practice session of the spring on the main field at Scottsdale Stadium. Mark Melancon, the new closer, followed him. Both players said they felt good. Both also found things to work on in advance of opening day. 

“Strength-wise I felt pretty good, really good, actually,” Bumgarner said. “My command up in the zone was right where I want it. I’m pretty happy with that. My cutter was pretty straight, but that usually comes around pretty quick.”

Melancon didn’t even throw his go-to cutter, saying he usually pockets it until later in camp. He’s getting the feel for his curveball back because he doesn’t throw it until he reports. Like Bumgarner, Melancon said he’s where he needs to be physically.

“I feel really good,” he said. “In years past there has been some slowness but I don’t feel that this year. I’m right where I want to be.”

The Giants have not finalized a Cactus League rotation, but Bumgarner will likely throw an inning in Friday’s opener. Melancon could follow him, as he’ll throw in the early innings until late March. He said he’ll talk to pitching coach Dave Righetti about closing a game or two over the final days of camp so he can start locking his routine down. It’s probably a lock that he’ll close out that first Bay Bridge Series game back at AT&T Park. 

ICYMI: Here’s actual (shaky) footage of Bumgarner throwing today. At one point, he gave Denard Span a hard time for missing a slider that he was told was coming. Span had a good reason. “I didn't understand him when he said it because of his accent,” he said. 

ICYMI, PART II: The latest podcast is a couple of interviews with Derek Law and Josh Osich. Law explained how he ordered 800 chicken nuggets for his wedding. 

CUETO UPDATE: The Giants now expect Johnny Cueto to join camp this weekend. His status for the WBC is up in the air. Speaking of the WBC, trainer Dave Groeschner will be leaving camp on Feb. 27 to work with manager Hensley Meulens and the Netherlands. Bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu is also working with the team, which opens play in Seoul. Anthony Reyes will be head trainer while Groeschner is gone.

PROSPECT WATCH: Bruce Bochy said right-hander Ray Black was a standout during early live BP sessions. “He had a hell of an outing yesterday,” Bochy said. “They said he was really good.”   Black, 26, still throws 100-plus. He still has command issues, though, with 32 walks in 31 1/3 innings last year. If he can get over that hump and stay healthy, he might rocket to the big leagues.

QUOTABLE: After just about every start last season — most of which were dominant — Bumgarner said he wasn’t happy with his mechanics. He said Tuesday that he’s still searching for the perfect feeling. “I was being a perfectionist,” he said. “If you’re being a perfectionist, I really haven’t had (my mechanics) where I wanted the last couple of years. It’s not like it’s too far off, obviously.”

Johnny Cueto hopes to join Giants camp this weekend

Johnny Cueto hopes to join Giants camp this weekend

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants have been watching high-quality clips of Johnny Cueto all spring, even though the co-ace has remained in the Dominican Republic. On Monday, manager Bruce Bochy finally managed to get face-to-face with Cueto. Kind of. 

Cueto spoke to Bochy, trainer Dave Groeschner and others via FaceTime, and all involved finally managed to hammer out a schedule for Cueto’s arrival. Cueto has been in the Dominican Republic tending to his ill father, Domingo, but he is expected to arrive in Scottsdale this weekend. Cueto is working to secure a visa for his father, who will travel with him.

Bochy wanted to have a long discussion with Cueto to get a sense of how ready he’ll be for the World Baseball Classic. Cueto’s participation is still up in the air, and not just because he has missed the first week of camp. There is a chance, Bochy said, that Cueto will choose to stay in Scottsdale to continue taking care of his father. The Dominican Republic opens play in Miami on March 9.

“He said he knows he’s got to make a decision real soon regarding what he does,” Bochy said. “Pitching or not pitching, he’s got to let them know as soon as possible.”

Cueto has been throwing to hitters at a facility in Boca Chica. He threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday.