Workhorse Cain's conditioning crucial to Giants' success

Workhorse Cain's conditioning crucial to Giants' success
March 4, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Making his first relief appearance since 2006, Matt Cain allowed two runs in three innings Monday in Glendale. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Matt Cain may be taking the honor of Opening Day starter from Tim Lincecum, but he has no chance to take away Lincecum’s unofficial title as the San Francisco Giants’ best starter in relief.

Lincecum allowed just one run in 13.2 innings as a reliever in the 2012 postseason, while Cain struggled in his first relief appearance since 2006 on Monday in Glendale, where the Giants lost 6-2 to the Chicago White Sox.

Bruce Bochy, tongue planted firmly in cheek, had this to say about Cain:

“I’m glad we let him start in the playoffs and didn’t bring him out of the ‘pen.”

Cain came out of the bullpen to stay on his regular spring schedule, while Ryan Vogelsong started the game in order to prepare for his upcoming World Baseball Classic debut on March 9.

[RELATED: Bochy stretches Vogelsong out before first WBC start]

Cain started warming up as Vogelsong was running into trouble in the fourth inning and relived Josh Osich to start the fifth. The White Sox greeted Cain with back-to-back extra-base hits and plated two runs before he recorded an out. Cain eventually settled in, but had some regrets about the two run-scoring hits he allowed: Alexi Ramirez’s double to left and Jeff Keppinger’s two-strike single to right.

“The one to Ramirez was probably a little bit flat,” Cain admitted. “I probably would like to have that as more of a downward curveball than a side-to-side curveball. Then the next one [to Keppinger] was a good pitch if you’re looking at it, but it was 0-2. So that made it a bad pitch because of the location. Just have to be able to bury that one because you’re way ahead right there and that’s not something you want to do.”

Cain wasn’t using his rare role as a reliever as an excuse for the shaky first frame.

“I tried to make it as normal as possible,” Cain said. “I tried to get loose and sit down for the top of the fifth like I do for a normal start.”

Cain allowed two more singles and a walk the rest of the way and struck out Gordon Beckham to end the sixth inning.

“I felt like I was a lot more consistent with what I was doing with my mechanics,” Cain said. “I had a lot better feel of where I was going with pitches. I’m still making some mistakes at times, but that’s all right. Just trying to work out the bugs.”

With the two runs allowed in three innings, Cain’s ERA now sits at 6.43. But that’s no concern for the Giants or Cain, who has posted Cactus League ERAs of 5.00 or over in five of his seven prior career spring trainings. All that matters is what Cain does in the regular season, which is consistently put up stellar numbers while making 30 or more starts in every year following his midseason call-up in 2005.

Championship runs in 2010 and 2012 forced Bochy to call on Cain even more and he never flinched. The Giants’ workhorse has avoided the type of injuries that plague many pitchers who consistently rack up 200+ inning seasons. Even a brief scare surrounding elbow inflammation that forced him to miss a start in spring of 2011 is long forgotten.

After Monday’s relief appearance, Cain explained how he prepares himself for the grind of the regular season and the potential for overtime in the postseason.

“There’s always challenges to go through,” Cain said. “Your body’s changing from year-to-year and you’re having to learn from it. So you’re adding little things to help yourself, but I think that’s just staying in touch with the trainers and getting knowledge from them and guys who have done it before you.”

Cain said he didn’t change his offseason routine from years past, but is always looking to improve his conditioning.

“Just trying to find ways to run more or find out a good routine to lift. It’s more of a what’s working for you, what’s helping.”

Cain and other members of the Giants’ starting rotation have often said they have a friendly competition when it comes to performances on the mound and at the plate. Cain said that mentality doesn’t exist when it comes to the weight room.

“We try not to [compete] because we’re not football players; we’re not trying to get humongous,” Cain said with a laugh. “If we ever did get into a competition, I’m pretty sure [Madison] Bumgarner would win no matter what. And he has no idea of his strength either, so he’ll keep going until something makes him stop.”

Like Cain, Vogelsong credited the Giants’ staff for keeping every member of the starting rotation relatively healthy over the course of a long season.

“Our training staff and the strength coach Carl [Kochan], they do a great job with us as far as what we need in the training room, in the weight room,” Vogelsong said.

While praising those who help him and his rotation-mates, Vogelsong also pointed out that the onus is on each and every starter to follow the training staff’s instructions and stay motivated.

“You can have all the programs set up for you in the world, but if you don’t do them, they don’t do much good,” Vogelsong said. “All of us work very hard in between starts to get ready for the next one.”

While Vogelsong’s next one will be in the WBC, Cain will take advantage of the longer Cactus League schedule to better prepare for his first career Opening Day start April 1 in Los Angeles.