Cain goes five strong, solidifies hold on rotation spot

Cain goes five strong, solidifies hold on rotation spot

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain has tried not to think about his tenuous hold on a rotation spot, and the organization would never come out publicly and say a pitcher is out there on a start-by-start basis. But there was no hiding the fact that the Giants have for weeks pinpointed next week as a potentially big one for the back of the rotation. 

Cain’s spot could have been skipped, and had he gotten off to an awful start this month, that could have been the first of many changes. Instead, Cain will start Tuesday in Kansas City, manager Bruce Bochy said. That was solidified with five sharp innings in a 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks.

“I think you have to (change your thinking), the way he threw the ball,” Bochy said. “His command, he had four pitches going tonight, he had a good curveball along with the changeup and the fastball command. If you look at his last few games, here he gives up a run but he just bowed his neck and went out there and pitched very well. He found a way to get it done.

“I thought that was just a huge outing for him and a good one to build on.”

Cain scattered five hits and walked three. All six of his strikeouts came during a dominant 10-batter stretch after a shaky first inning. After two years of barely contributing at the plate, Cain got the Giants going with a double off Shelby Miller. He raced home from second on Denard Span’s hard single to center. Cain started to run out of gas in the sixth, but when he put the first two on, Cory Gearrin entered and struck out three straight. For the bullpen, this night meant just a tad bit more than your average April win. Cain has greeted every one of these guys, whether they’re coming in as free agents or coming up as rookies.

“It was awesome,” Gearrin said. “He did everything tonight that you can do. He’s hitting doubles in the gap and pitching outstanding. It’s fun for us as a bullpen to come off of that. He really set the tone tonight.”

Cain’s final line was not dominant, but it was plenty for a fifth starter. In this rotation, that’s all the Giants are asking of Cain. They need Ty Blach in their bullpen and they need Tyler Beede to get some more seasoning, and Bochy believes that Cain’s continued presence in the rotation can pay big dividends down the line. On Wednesday, he compared him to Barry Zito. 

“This is something that he’s earned when you look at what he’s done for us,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some championships because of this guy. I’m going back to Barry Zito and he had his ups and downs. We stayed with him and he helped win us a World Series with those starts in St. Louis and Detroit. I feel the same way about Matty."

--- The bullpen struck out six in four innings, and nobody was sharper than Gearrin. He was very, very happy to be back in San Francisco, where the thick air allows him to shape the ball in ways that simply aren’t possible in Arizona. Gearrin threw one two-seamer that moved so much it was categorized as a slider by Pitch F/X.

--- On a normal night, Nick Hundley’s seventh-inning blast to right would have been the rare right-handed homer into the arcade. On a normal night, Jarrett Parker’s shot might have cleared the kale out there in center field. They settled for a double and triple, respectively. Bochy was especially enthused by Parker’s swing, the best one he’s taken all season. 

“Good for Park,” he said. “I think he’s been pressing a little bit. Against the wind, that ball was crushed. Hopefully that gets his confidence back. It’s tough for these kids. When the season starts, there’s more attention to the numbers and guys can press a little bit.”

--- If you missed the pre-game show, Tim Flannery and Matt Williams had one of the best inside-baseball conversations you’ll see on TV while talking about signs at third base. You can watch the whole thing here. 

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.