Matt Cain was scheduled to start Sunday against the Florida Marlins, but the Giants announced Saturday that Johnny Cueto, on the mend from an inner ear infection, will take the mound at AT&T Park in the last game before the All-Star break.
So here’s a question: Will Cain ever start for the Giants again?
That sounds a little melodramatic, but his status is precarious. If Madison Bumgarner emerges healthy from his Single-A outing in San Jose on Monday, he will likely join the Giants rotation right after the break. And Cain could be the odd man out.
There are many moving parts in this creaky mechanism. Bumgarner’s return could be delayed. The Giants might trade Cueto before the July 31 trade deadline, opening a spot for another starter. They might elevate Tyler Beede from Triple-A. Someone else could get hurt. Before Friday’s game against the Marlins, manager Bruce Bochy even left open the possibility of a six-man rotation, almost as rare as a unicorn in Major League Baseball.
Bochy is generally protective of his players, and he has been especially supportive of Cain, his senior veteran. The manager noted that Cain has been a victim of circumstance in recent outings.
“He had a quality start going, and (I) made a pitching change there. We did give up a couple of his runs the last game,” Bochy said of Cain’s most recent start, on Tuesday. “And (against) Detroit, a good hitting ball club. Here against the Rockies (on June 27), we ended up winning (in a no-decision for Cain). But we walked a guy intentionally, he ended up scoring. So he’s actually been throwing the ball pretty good. His ball’s moving a lot, the sinker.”
“Yeah. I mean, I feel good,” Cain told me in the clubhouse Friday. “Feel like I’m making a lot of quality pitches. Although I get in some situations where I get myself in trouble. Just trying to minimize that.”
I asked Cain if he was trying any mechanical adjustments.
“Yeah, I may try underhand next time. I might try that one,” he said.
Our brief conversation had reached a crossroads. Cain had replied with impatience, if not outright disdain. I’ve heard this tone before. It often signals the end of an interview, or the beginning of hostility. But Cain eased off. I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with the topic, but he was trying to cooperate.
“No. I mean, nothing out of the ordinary,” he continued. “A lot of it really is keeping it pretty simple and try not to make big mistakes, especially in big situations. More of simplifying anything, if you can.”
Despite Bochy’s reassurances, Cain has done little of late to prove he deserves a spot in the rotation. He hasn’t won a game since May 15, dropping seven consecutive decisions since then. His earned run average over his past six starts is a dizzying 7.63. Cain’s fastball has lost its pop, and he is no longer the workhorse who gets stronger after the sixth inning.
Truth be told, he has been edging toward the professional cliff for several years now.
Cain was the Giants’ ace in 2012, when he 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 219⅓ innings. He threw a perfect game in June of that year and was sixth in National League Cy Young voting. Cain started the final game of that season, a victory at Detroit that completed a San Francisco sweep in the World Series.