It is something that all pitchers strive for, but rarely accomplish. San Francisco right-handed pitcher Matt Cain is one of the few that is able to say he has tasted perfection, tossing a perfecto on June 13, 2012. After an injury plagued 2014 season, a simple start in his Cactus League debut may be nearly as sweet.
Cain, who underwent season-ending elbow surgery on Aug. 14, 2014, made his spring training debut against the Giants’ archrival Los Angeles Dodgers. The 30-year-old right-hander got the start for San Francisco, tossing two perfect innings during the Giants’ 5-5 tie.
Originally expected to throw just one inning with a 30-pitch limit, Cain was effective, needing just 20 pitches to complete his two innings of work. While just the first start of spring, it was definitely a positive for a pitcher who has been disappointed in his performance over the last two seasons.
“I feel like I’ve underperformed the past couple of years,” said Cain.
In Cain’s first start since July 2014, was his ability to throw, and perhaps more importantly, command, all his pitches in the strike zone stood out. His entire repertoire of fastballs, changeups, sliders and curveballs was on display against the Dodgers, which featured a lineup littered with players expected to be in the starting lineup come opening day.
He retired all six Dodgers he faced on three groundouts and three fly balls.
Cain was able to throw his fastball with excellent command; something the right-hander had become known for during his breakout 2012 season. Cain must locate his fastball, first and foremost, as his secondary pitches are enhanced by his ability to locate the heater. The only negative to take away from Cain’s performance was his fastball velocity. Cain topped out at 92 MPH, and his fastball hovered in the upper eighties for most of the outing. With a few more starts and work in the bullpen, expect his velocity to return to the 93-94 MPH levels more in line with his career numbers.
The most important thing to take away from the start, in my opinion, is the fact that Cain did not look like he labored to throw any of his pitches and he did not show any signs of pain while on the mound. There were times during 2014 that a grimace could be seen on the his face after he released a pitch. After seeing Cain take the mound yesterday, it appears that the ball is coming out of his hand free-and-easy again, something that could be dangerous for National League opponents.
“Everything seemed very smooth,” said Giants’ catcher Buster Posey about Cain’s first outing. “I thought he looked great.”
While Posey was impressed with Cain’s initial outing of the Cactus League, it was good to know the Giant right-hander was also pleased with his first performance as well.
“That went really well,” said Cain, adding that facing the rival Dodgers helps bring the competition and focus levels up. “I want to go out there and compete and throw against those guys.”
He added that one thing that helped him in preparing for his first spring start was thinking about getting into a good rhythm on the mound.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to get into the right rhythm, trying to get everything in the same groove, and then it all kind of worked out.”
While the Giants are undoubtedly happy about Cain’s first performance, there were a couple of other positives to take away from San Francisco’s meeting with the Dodgers.
After trailing 2-0, thanks to a Yasiel Puig two-run home run, San Francisco had six consecutive players reach base en route to a five-run inning against Dodger reliever Brandon League. Three San Francisco prospects were in the middle of the rally.
Matt Duffy, who is remembered for his mad-dash from second base to score on wild pitch during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, got the Giants’ rally started by reaching first on a Howie Kendrick throwing error. Outfield prospects Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson contributed RBI singles during the frame. If, Williamson, 24, and the 26-year-old Parker perform well during spring, they could earn some playing at the Major Level while Hunter Pence heals from a non-displaced fracture of his left ulna.
The Giants take on San Diego today at 4:05 p.m. EST (1:05 p.m. PT). Yusmiero Petit, who looked sharp in his first outing of the spring, will get the start against the Padres.