SCOTTSDALE — Matt Cain was 0 for 16 at the plate in 2015, going hitless for the first time in his big league career. Batting eighth on Friday, Cain had two singles in the second inning alone.
“I don’t know what happened on those,” Cain said later. “I got lucky. I swung and they hit the bat somehow.”
The contributions at the plate were nice, but the Giants were worried about another column in the box score: pitch count. Cain got to 52 in 2 2/3 innings Friday, which should easily put him on line to make his scheduled season debut April 8, despite missing most of the first month of camp after having a cyst removed from his pitching arm.
“I believe it will,” Cain said. “Obviously, we’ll see (how I feel) tomorrow. Bounce back and let’s keep it going. We’ve had good success with it. The arm felt fine. Everything felt fine.”
Cain’s catcher used more gushing language.
“I don’t say it lightly — I really thought his stuff was good from the bullpen to the game,” Buster Posey said. “I was really happy with it. I hope he felt the same.”
Posey said Cain’s breaking ball had great depth and rotation, and his fastball had good late life. That’s always been a key for Cain, and it was there Friday. The one issue was fastball command, which led to three walks. In all, Cain gave up seven hits and three earned runs.
Cain was off when he first took the mound, walking Jon Jay on four pitches. After a double play, Matt Kemp lined a single to right. Cain walked Wil Myers on four pitches but got out of the jam when Alexei Ramirez hit a lazy fly to center.
The second inning was a bit hairier. Cain gave up a one-out triple to Alexi Amarista and an RBI single to Austin Hedges. The Padres scored another run on back-to-back two-out singles, but Cain got out of the inning when Matt Duffy cut off a throw from the outfield and caught Jay creeping too far on the bases.
Manager Bruce Bochy said before the game that he hoped Cain would get through two innings, but he came out for the third. It didn’t go all that well, but as Bochy often says during the spring, Cain “got his work in.” He gave up a solo homer to Kemp and was pulled with two outs and two on. Cain said he was aiming for about 45 pitches but felt so strong that he told pitching coach Dave Righetti they could stretch it out a bit.
While Bochy has told Cain not to rush back, the right-hander is clearly eager to be ready the opening week. Cain has three spring starts remaining, and the Giants just need him in the 80-plus range before taking the ball against the Dodgers on April 8. Cain said he does not want to start a second straight year on the disabled list.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “The long stint I was on, it was not fun. It’s not something you want to see as an athlete, seeing guys take the field and not being a part of it.”
If Cain is in the rotation from the start, he’s not just along to fill innings. Bochy was adamant before the game that Cain is not a No. 5 starter. He expects more, and Posey does, too.
“We’re counting on him big time,” Posey said. “I don’t think there’s any other way to put it. He has the opportunity to win a lot of games this year.”