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.