Tuesday night had something of a throwback feel for Matt Cain.
The struggling Giants right-hander pitched his best outing of the season and his longest since 2013, throwing eight innings and holding a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup to two runs. And he fell to 0-5 on the season, as the Giants’ slumping lineup was shut out for the second time in three days in a 4-0 loss at AT&T Park.
While concerns about the Giants’ lineup may be growing, Cain did his best to allay those related to his performance so far in 2016. In his longest start since Aug. 1, 2013, Cain allowed only a solo homer and sacrifice fly by Troy Tulowitzki while striking out seven and walking none. The former staff ace stopped a streak of 18 starts in which he had not thrown more than six innings.
“That should do a lot for him, tonight’s game, the way he threw the ball,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He maintained his stuff for eight solid innings. It’s a shame we couldn’t get him some runs.”
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Pitching without the benefit of offense used to be a theme for Cain, whose start Tuesday was the 49th of his career in which he received no run support. Right now, though, that’s a problem not limited to Cain.
The Giants have scored just three runs in 40 innings over their past four games, Bochy, in an attempt to jog the offense, shuffled his lineup a little Tuesday, moving Matt Duffy to sixth and slotting Buster Posey and Hunter Pence third and fourth against left-hander J.A. Happ. But for the first six innings, the Giants’ only two hits against Happ came from Kelby Tomlinson, starting at shortstop in place of resting Brandon Crawford.
After Tomlinson’s one-out single in the third, Bochy elected to put on a hit-and-run with Cain at the plate. Cain swung through the pitch and Tomlinson was thrown out at second. Bochy said the “worst-case scenario is what happened.”
In the sixth, Jarrett Parker walked and Tomlinson singled, bringing Cain up again with no outs. This time, Cain bunted – right to Happ, who wheeled and threw out Parker at third base. Denard Span grounded into a double play, ending what had been a promising inning.
“I think you look back, Matty gets that bunt down, it’s a different game,” Bochy said. “A productive out somewhere can occasionally change a game. And we’re missing that right now.”
The Giants trailed 1-0 at that point. Cain said he did “a bad job” on the bunt attempt, and that: “I just didn’t get the angle right to third. That could’ve changed the game.”
Still, it’s not as though the Giants’ hitters helped bail Cain out. Joe Panik’s leadoff single in the seventh went for naught and the Giants left two more runners on base in the eighth. Toronto added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth, and after the Giants loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning – finally knocking Happ out one out shy of a complete game – Parker struck out swinging to end it.
Asked afterward what could be behind the lineup’s struggles, Posey answered that it’s “hard to say.” The Giants’ catcher is perhaps the most notable hitter slumping, hitless over his last 18 at-bats, though Posey said he doesn’t feel like his swing is too far off.
“Not really, no,” he said. “I’m definitely not exactly where I want to be. But looking back over the last few games I’ve hit some balls on the nose … A fraction of difference in the bat or ball, it’s driven to the outfield. So just keep on going.”
Posey said Cain was “throwing the ball great today” and “down in the zone the most I’ve seen him this year.” That agreed with what Cain said was the biggest difference for him Tuesday: Minimizing mistakes. He left a fastball up to Tulowitzki for a home run in the second inning, and Michael Saunders’ triple in the seventh set up Toronto’s second run. Otherwise, Cain was sharp.
“When we had guys on, we made the pitches when we needed to,” Cain said. “Especially with a team that can swing it like those guys, I think this was just something to try to build off of and try to carry this into the next one.”
The Giants believe they can swing it, too. But their offense is running cold right now, and on Tuesday night Cain met a familiar fate as a result.
“Hate to spoil this one for him,” Posey said.