Cain makes case for Giants' rotation spot in final Cactus League start

Cain makes case for Giants' rotation spot in final Cactus League start

MESA, Ariz. — The Giants still have not publicly disclosed their full rotation, but Matt Cain sure sounded Tuesday like a guy who plans to start against the San Diego Padres on April 7.

“I’ll be ready for the fifth day,” Cain said. “I’ll be ready until they’ve told me otherwise.”

Tuesday’s outing seemed to indicate that if Cain hasn’t been told he’s the fifth starter, it will happen soon. He threw 99 pitches against the Cubs, which is not exactly the workload of a man preparing to be a long reliever or take on some other role. 

Cain’s day was blurred by an ugly finish, but for five innings, he was having by far his best outing of the spring. Cain recorded five strikeouts and got four popups through four. The balls were hit further in the fifth, but three flyouts got him through five on 84 pitches. Jason Heyward greeted Cain in the sixth with a double. After Gorkys Hernandez chased down a deep liner by Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez ended Cain's day with a single up the middle. 

The lineup Cain faced was a proper test given the stakes. The Cubs started Ben Zobrist, Heyward, Rizzo, Baez and Miguel Montero, and Cain handled them well until the sixth-inning rally. His lone blemish early on was a pitch that Chesny Young blasted for a two-run homer. 

“Today was an improvement,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He did a good job out there and went through a tough lineup. He used his changeup very well today.”

Cain finished his spring with a 7.82 ERA, and in recent days, team officials have been less hesitant to plug Cain into that No. 5 spot. Ty Blach made his case by allowing two runs over six innings in his last start, but Blach also would be an easier fit in the bullpen, which will be without Will Smith for the entire season. Josh Osich’s struggles in relief of Cain on Tuesday could intensify the need for left-handed relief help. 

Bochy said last week that the Giants could use their fifth starter in a different way early on. They have a day off Monday, and Cain said he could be available out of the bullpen during the season’s first series if needed. No matter what the numbers say, Cain feels like he’s in a good place.

“I know I’m ready to throw the ball the way I need to,” he said. “I feel good and my mechanics feel good. I’m ready to go.”

Bochy expects to announce a decision on Thursday. If the staff was still waffling, Cain left the right final impression. 

“We’ll get together to discuss what to do here with the whole staff,” Bchy said. “But it’s good to see Matt get better as the spring went on.”


Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”