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 lineup: Arroyo returns for series opener vs Nationals

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AP

Giants lineup: Arroyo returns for series opener vs Nationals

Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker issued their lineups for today's series opener at AT&T Park:

Nationals (30-19)
1. Trea Turner (R) SS
2. Jayson Werth (R) LF
3. Bryce Harper (L) RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman (R) 1B
5. Daniel Murphy (L) 2B
6. Anthony Rendon (R) 3B
7. Matt Wieters (S) C
8. Michael Taylor (R) CF
9. Tanner Roark (R) P (4-2, 4.32 ERA)

Giants (22-30)
1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
7. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
8. Mac Williamson (R) LF
9. Matt Moore (L) P (2-5, 5.28 ERA)

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- The blisters on Johnny Cueto's middle and index fingers that limited his effectiveness in his last few starts haven't yet completely healed.

But the two-time All-Star is learning to pitch with them.

Cueto threw six strong innings and Brandon Crawford drove in three runs as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-1 on Sunday.

Cueto (5-4) bounced back from his roughest stretch as a Giant. He was 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA in his previous four starts.

"They're not bothering me like they were before," Cueto said through a translator. "I'm just getting used to it but I have to continue pitching until they get better."

The Giants won their third straight home series and posted their 11th victory in 18 games overall.

Crawford's two-run single highlighted a four-run second against R.A. Dickey (3-4) that made it 6-0.

Matt Kemp had three hits for Atlanta. But the Braves couldn't get much going against Cueto, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk. Cueto struck out eight, including five in a row at one point.

"He did what he needed to do to get us out," Kemp said. "We had chances to score runs and we didn't. I think in this series we really didn't do a good score of scoring runs."

Dickey allowed a season-high seven runs (six earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings.

"This can be a challenging place to throw because of the wind because it swirls so much," Dickey said.

Eduardo Nunez and Gorkys Hernandez each had two hits for the Giants. Joe Panik tripled to start the second-inning burst.

Cueto had two productive at-bats, bunting a runner to second in the second inning and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third.

"It's always nice to have a lead and I thought Johnny was the sharpest he'd been this year," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Hopefully it's something he can build on. The changeup was working really well and his command of the fastball was really good."

Posey was 0 for 2 with two walks. He hasn't struck out in 55 consecutive plate appearances.

FUN FACTOR:
The Giants scored the game's first run when Nunez came around from third when a knuckleball glanced off catcher Kurt Suzuki glove in the bottom of the first. The play was ruled a passed ball. Asked if he had any empathy for the plight of his counterpart, Posey said "Yes, no question. It's not fun to hit, it doesn't look fun to catch, either."

FANCY FIELDING:
Hernandez made a diving catch in the gap in left-center robbing Emilio Bonifacio of an extra-base hit with one out in the seventh inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Braves: 2B Brandon Phillips left in the fifth for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson. Phillips fouled a ball off his foot in his last at-bat in the third.

Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner will start his throwing program on Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bumgarner will start out playing catch and make five rehab starts. The 2014 World Series MVP suffered a separated left shoulder in a dirt biking accident. "The progress is happening," Bochy said. "I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel." ... Slumping rookie INF Christian Arroyo was out of the lineup on Sunday and his playing status appears uncertain. Arroyo, who turns 22 on Tuesday, is 0 for 19 in his last five games. "I'll talk to him, about what his situation is," Bochy said. "I'm definitely planning on giving him a couple of days" off.

UP NEXT:
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran will make his first career start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday. He is 3-9 with a 5.63 ERA in 15 career interleague starts.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore will face the Nationals for the second time in his career. He was with Tampa Bay when he gave up two runs in five innings against Washington in 2012.