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.”

Agent Scott Boras pinpoints why Bryce Harper likes San Francisco

Agent Scott Boras pinpoints why Bryce Harper likes San Francisco

Bryce Harper's love for San Francisco is no secret. The free-agent outfielder's social-media history is littered with posts paying tribute to the City by the Bay.

So, why does the 26-year-old like San Francisco so much? The atmosphere at AT&T Park has a lot to do with it, according to Scott Boras, Harper's agent. 

“I think he likes the absolute feel of the ballpark and the fans,” Boras told the San Francisco Chronicle last week at the MLB General Managers meetings in Carlsbad. “It’s a great fan base. You know you’re at a ballgame, and he loves the enthusiasm and their success.”

The super-agent told the Chronicle that San Francisco is one of "a lot of cities" where Harper would be a "perfect fit." We wouldn't expect Boras to say anything different, but it's not clear the Giants feel the same way.

Sources familiar with the Giants' thinking told NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic that their interest in Harper was overblown, and that the free agent would have turn down other, more lucrative opportunities to come to San Francisco. New Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi wasn't one to give out big contracts during his tenure as Dodgers general manager, either. 

Oddsmaker Bovada gave the Giants the fourth-best odds to sign Harper, but that was before Zaidi's hiring. Whether or not those odds improve will have a lot to do with Zaidi. 

[PAVLOVIC: Why AT&T Park could affect how Farhan Zaidi constructs Giants' roster]

[MORE: Farhan Zaidi's Giants roster will emphasize positional versatility]

[JOHNSON: Ex-Giants lefty Aaron Fultz on AT&T Park, coaching career and more]

Why AT&T Park could affect how Farhan Zaidi constructs Giants' roster

Why AT&T Park could affect how Farhan Zaidi constructs Giants' roster

SAN FRANCISCO — When Farhan Zaidi took a new job, he traded in the National League’s most powerful roster for one that has had home run issues for years. 

The Dodgers led the league with 235 homers in 2018, distributing them evenly, with 119 at home and 116 on the road. The Giants had just 133 total homers, second-to-last in the NL. 

The Dodgers had seven players hit 20 or more homers last season, and Chris Taylor bashed 17. The Giants haven’t had a 20-homer player since Brandon Crawford in 2015. Evan Longoria paced the 2018 Giants with 16 homers. 

Zaidi comes from a place where the lineup was built around the long ball. But what will he do with a team that plays at AT&T Park?

"It's a tricky one because, you know, on the one hand you want to build a roster that is kind of tailored to your home park, and on the other you've got to go on the road and play 81 games in different kinds of ballparks,” he said on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast. “This is a team that's going to have to travel to Coors Field and some other, more offensive-friendly environments.

"So maybe building the pitching-and-defense team works at home but it hurts you on the road. I think there are some subtleties to thinking about the roster that way that need to be evaluated more.”

The Giants have spent years trying to find solutions. Zaidi was hired in part for his ability to solve creatively, and he’ll have to find a better balance with a new lineup. In nine games at AT&T Park last season, the Dodgers hit nine homers, but also had a .387 on-base percentage, 24 doubles and five triples.

“Look, more power is always good,” he said. “It's the easiest way to score runs and put runs on the board, is hit the ball out of the ballpark, but you don't want to do it at the cost of at-bat quality and some other things that can help you have good offense as well."