Giants spring training Day 38: Cain still on track for fifth starter job

Giants spring training Day 38: Cain still on track for fifth starter job

MARYVALE, Ariz. — After a series of questions the other day about getting extra rest between starts, Madison Bumgarner smiled and pointed at the personalized calendar taped to his locker. He said he simply operates by the schedule set out by pitching coach Dave Righetti.

A glance at the calendar in Matt Cain’s locker might show a reason why the longest-tenured Giant is still in a good position to win the No. 5 starter spot despite continued spring struggles. Because they have two off days sandwiching a two-game series in Kansas City in the middle of April, the Giants can potentially use their No. 5 starter just twice until April 25, a span of 20 games.

If there’s any concern about Cain’s ability to hold up during the regular season, the early slate could help. The Giants can throw Cain against the Padres and Diamondbacks to start the season, and if it's not working out, they can go a stretch with just their top four as they reevaluate. 

"We'll see once we get a little closer how guys are doing, but it certainly gives you some options," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Cain has been preparing all along to start April 7 at Petco Park. That hasn’t changed.

“That’s what I’m looking at,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’m preparing for, to make sure I’m ready to go 100 pitches.”

Cain had another mixed-bag day against the Brewers. The first inning was full of loud contact and Cain was charged with three runs on four hits. But he settled down from there, allowing just one run over the next four innings. In all, Cain allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out four. He said he tried to change speeds more often after the early ambush. 

“I was maybe getting the timing different for them,” he said. “Those guys were getting balls where they could hit them. You’ve got to make a quick adjustment to that, and I had to do that.”

Cain threw 70 pitches, another sign that he’s locked in for April 7. His competition, Ty Blach, has not been fully stretched out this spring. 

TRAINER'S ROOM: Will Smith will head to Los Angeles on Thursday to get a second opinion on his left elbow strain. The Giants will then know if Smith needs Tommy John surgery, which would end his season. Eduardo Nuñez flew back to San Francisco with Smith earlier in the week to get a corisone shot in his sore right shoulder. He's back, but he'll be down a few days. 

GAME RECAP: Hunter Pence has been slumping for several weeks, but he got on the board in the sixth with a double that spun off the end of his bat and down the first base line. A classic Pence hit ... Jae-gyun Hwang hit a two-run shot to right-center ... Steven Okert did some nifty work to keep his spring ERA at 0.00. With runners on first and third and no outs, he got a double play and a fly ball to left.

ICYMI: Barry Bonds has arrived. Here is a story about his return to the Giants, and here’s video from his media session this morning. 

GOOD NEWS: First base coach Jose Alguacil returned to camp Wednesday morning, and he said he’s only a few days from returning to game action. Alguacil, who had surgery earlier in March after taking a line drive off the face, was cleared for full activity. Hensley Meulens, Dave Groeschner and Taira Uematsu also returned from a stint in the WBC. 

FLASHING THE LEATHER: Aaron Hill started the prettiest double play of the spring by snagging a Hernan Perez liner with a dive and making a perfect throw to second baseman Gordon Beckham. Hill later smashed a double into the left field corner. That dude is making the team. 

QUOTABLE: "I figured Barry is in town, so I'd show him how it's done." -- Denard Span on a very long two-run homer he hit to right. 

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.”