Cain: 'I’m getting to where I need to get'

Cain: 'I’m getting to where I need to get'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A month into spring training, it’s still somewhat difficult to get a read on what the Giants need to see from Matt Cain. Team officials continue to view Cain as the frontrunner for the fifth starter job, but they insist that Cain needs to earn it down here in the desert. 

What exactly does that mean when Cain takes the mound? On Friday, you could see both sides of the argument on pretty much a hitter-by-hitter basis. 

At times Cain was good, with his velocity sitting in the now-normal 91 mph range and his secondary pitches generating swings and misses. He struck out five in his final three innings, twice getting talented young Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and once whiffing DJ LeMahieu, the league’s reigning batting champ. 

But when all was said and done, Cain walked off the mound having allowed nine hits and three runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring ERA dropped a bit, but it’s still 8.40 in five starts. In 15 innings, he has given up 25 hits.

“I’m throwing the ball where I want to,” Cain said. “It feels good coming out. I know that I’m progressing from start to start and I know I’m getting to where I need to get for the season to start. That’s something that’s not bothering me. It’s keep doing that. I think I can do a better job of (when you) get two outs, put away the inning. And also do a better job of putting guys away when I get two strikes.”

The third inning showed the inconsistency that has plagued Cain all spring. After giving up two runs in the second, he opened the third by striking out LeMahieu and then getting Story with a good slider. But minor leaguer Jordan Patterson singled and Stephen Cardullo drove an RBI double into the gap. Cain then froze Pat Valaika for his third strikeout of the inning. 

“That’s going to happen,” Cain said. “Even in that situation, I made a pitch to Patterson that I wanted to make and he did a good job of putting a swing on it. The same thing to Cardullo — he hit a changeup that wasn’t a bad pitch, and he did a good job, where a lot of guys hit that ball to shortstop. Those guys are obviously doing a good job as well. You can’t sit there and try to nitpick — you get two outs, striking guys out, you want to finish the inning, but it’s not always going to be that way. You’d love for it to always be that way but it doesn’t work that way.”

While Cain has yet to get optimum results, he has found a huge positive in the days between outings. Cain is finally healthy, and that has allowed him to tinker in the bullpen instead of worrying about how his arm will respond. He said he is trying to get a little bit more creative in how he attacks hitters, with one example being taking a few ticks off his slider to try and miss more barrels.

“I’m able to fine-tune things,” he said. “Before I wasn’t doing that. I was just trying to get through a bullpen (session) or get through starts. I was just trying to go out there and compete, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be able to do physically and mentally.”

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.