MESA, Ariz. - The Giants still have not publicly disclosed their full rotation, but Matt Cain sure sounded Tuesday like a guy who plans to start against the San Diego Padres on April 7.
"I'll be ready for the fifth day," Cain said. "I'll be ready until they've told me otherwise."
Tuesday's outing seemed to indicate that if Cain hasn't been told he's the fifth starter, it will happen soon. He threw 99 pitches against the Cubs, which is not exactly the workload of a man preparing to be a long reliever or take on some other role.
Cain's day was blurred by an ugly finish, but for five innings, he was having by far his best outing of the spring. Cain recorded five strikeouts and got four popups through four. The balls were hit further in the fifth, but three flyouts got him through five on 84 pitches. Jason Heyward greeted Cain in the sixth with a double. After Gorkys Hernandez chased down a deep liner by Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez ended Cain's day with a single up the middle.
The lineup Cain faced was a proper test given the stakes. The Cubs started Ben Zobrist, Heyward, Rizzo, Baez and Miguel Montero, and Cain handled them well until the sixth-inning rally. His lone blemish early on was a pitch that Chesny Young blasted for a two-run homer.
"Today was an improvement," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He did a good job out there and went through a tough lineup. He used his changeup very well today."
Cain finished his spring with a 7.82 ERA, and in recent days, team officials have been less hesitant to plug Cain into that No. 5 spot. Ty Blach made his case by allowing two runs over six innings in his last start, but Blach also would be an easier fit in the bullpen, which will be without Will Smith for the entire season. Josh Osich's struggles in relief of Cain on Tuesday could intensify the need for left-handed relief help.
Bochy said last week that the Giants could use their fifth starter in a different way early on. They have a day off Monday, and Cain said he could be available out of the bullpen during the season's first series if needed. No matter what the numbers say, Cain feels like he's in a good place.
"I know I'm ready to throw the ball the way I need to," he said. "I feel good and my mechanics feel good. I'm ready to go."
Bochy expects to announce a decision on Thursday. If the staff was still waffling, Cain left the right final impression.
"We'll get together to discuss what to do here with the whole staff," Bchy said. "But it's good to see Matt get better as the spring went on."