What's wrong with Matt Cain?

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What's wrong with Matt Cain?

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS Thirteen. That was Matt Cains unlucky numberMonday night.

There are plenty more numerals of note you could citeafter Cain couldnt escape the sixth inning in an 8-2 loss to the St. LouisCardinals at Busch Stadium.

The Giants have lost six of his last nine starts since the perfect game. He has a 4.40 ERA over that span. He gave up his 17th home run of 2012 after surrendering just nine all of last season.

Cain would appear to be in a genuine funk. He certainly appeareddispleased while managing clipped answers to reporters after the game.

But when you examine his start pitch by pitch, 13 of themstand out the ones the Cardinals fouled off with two strikes.

The Cards fouled off a whopping 37 of 114 pitches in all, and 13of those prolonged at-bats. Matt Holliday spoiled a pair of two-strike pitchesbefore doubling on a curveball to start the fateful, three-run sixth inning.Rafael Furcal, who had a 10-pitch at-bat in the second inning, fouled off a 3-2pitch with runners going before drawing a walk.

And Matt Carpenter fouled off a 1-2 changeup before reachingout to turn a fastball on the black into a two-run single.

So its no surprise, when asked what he could improve from his past few losses, Cain responded: Putting away guys better.

Easier said than done especially against the Cardinals.

The only way you can go about it, maybe is just try toexpand a little more, catcher Buster Posey said. But you can get where theyre eitherspoiling them or taking them. Its a good lineup and I thought Matt threw theball well. Even the two-out single was a pretty quality pitch, I thought.

So did manager Bruce Bochy, who had to know the second-guessquestion was coming: Why did he leave Cain (with 110 pitches, including 26 inthe sixth) out on the mound to face Carpenter with the bases loaded in thesixth, especially since the left-handed pinch hitter was 3 for 3 against him inhis career?

You wouldnt want to come out, would you? Bochy said.

Cain has earned plenty of capital and trust over the years.Nobody would deny that. Bochy decided to spend some of it.

Hes a strike away from a pretty good start, Bochy said.

Instead, he was charged with five earned runs in 5 23 innings. Now the questions will come, and they will be obvious: Cainhas a 4.40 ERA since he threw his perfect game, with history riding on each ofthose 125 stressful pitches. He had a 2.18 ERA through that start, and the Giants had been 10-3 in his assignments. Now they've lost six of nine.

Is there a correlation?

Im going out there to do a job, said Cain, stayingultra-laconic. Thats the only way I look at it.

Is he feeling healthy and strong?

Yep.

Cain is always an interesting subject to evaluate. Those who use advanced metrics have been forever fascinatedby his suppressed home runfly ball ratio, sometimes calling it unexplainableor unsustainable but certainly calling it an outlier.

Last year, just 2.9 percent of Cains fly balls were homeruns; the NL average was 7.9 percent. It was the most extreme example in whatsbeen a career trend: The league ratio has never been lower than 7.1 percent since Cain broke into the majors.Cains ratio had never been higher than 6.7 percent.

This season, perhaps hes deviating to the norm. His home runflyball ratio is 7.7 percent, nestled right up against the NL average of 7.9percent.

But for all the hmmmmmms those numbers might generate, the gopherball isnt what dug Cain's Monday night.The one home run he allowed came on a first-pitch curveball down that CarlosBeltran -- a pretty good hitter, we should point out -- golfed over the fence.

Actually, Cain managed to rebound well after a 31-pitchsecond inning, which included Furcals 10-pitch battle. He retired 10 of 11hitters and entered the sixth in a tie game.

You look at him inning by inning, you watch if his mechanicsare off, Bochy said. The last start (against the Mets at AT&T Park), hewas out of sync and hell tell you that. But I thought tonight he was muchbetter. He had good stuff tonight.

But the Cardinals hitters had a good approach tomatch.

Its not a new occurrence. Thats how you hit and scoreruns, said Ryan Theriot, who counted most of these Cardinals among his WorldSeries teammates last season. You spoil the good pitches, the pitcherspitches, and work the count. (Jon) Jay, Furcal thats how you create ralliesand get pitchers out of the game. Its a good night when you can foul balls offlike that.

And on the flipside? What did the Giants manage against Jake Westbrook?

Sinker, cutter, curveball he stayed out of the middle ofthe plate, Theriot said. Thats what were talking about. If you dont fightthose pitches off, its going to make for a long night. I wasnt able to dothat, and Jake was making good pitches.

The Giants will have to do a better job spoiling thosepitches, and making some loud contact, the rest of the series. The Cardinals lineup is not going to let upagainst Barry Zito, who has house-of-horrors numbers in three career starts atBusch Stadium. And with the Dodgers simultaneously playing the radioactiveRockies, losing three of four here in the shadow of the Gateway Arch or worse could make quite an unfortunate fender bender in the NL West standings.

Cains next start will come Saturday against said Rockies. They dont want to put him in positionto close a gushing wound.

Were confident every time he steps on the mound, or thenext guy, Posey said. That doesnt change. I think we feel good withwhoevers out there.

They should be. They've been spoiled for a long time.

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.”