As one of the rare current Giants who was around when Barry Bonds played his last season in 2007, right-hander Matt Cain had an idea what to expect when Bonds returned Monday as a special instructor in camp.
"It just became a zoo like normal," Cain said with a grin. "Just a bunch of cameras. If you want to get TV time, just go near him."
While the focus was on Bonds’ arrival Monday, Cain had a noteworthy day of his own in the Giants’ 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Cain started the game and retired all 15 batters he faced in five perfect innings, leaving after reaching his pitch count. He recorded seven strikeouts and allowed three balls out of the infield.
In eight innings over his two Cactus League outings so far, Cain has given up one hit and struck out nine. It’s a promising sign that he’s starting this season looking more like the second-half Cain from 2013 (2.36 ERA in 11 starts) than the first-half version (5.06 in 19 starts).
"He’s really sharp," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I mean he’s hitting his spots, executed his pitches from the first inning on. He’s been throwing well all spring and did a great job today. It’s nice to see him have those easy innings and command the ball like he was."
Cain said he was pleased with how he put away hitters in two-strike counts -- an issue for him at times last season that he attributed to "bad location." The Giants’ top four starters -- with the exception of Ryan Vogelsong -- have now combined to throw 27 innings this spring without allowing a run.
"We knew that we didn’t do what we needed to last year, and you can tell that the guys are just motivated and we don’t want that to happen again," Cain said. "So it’s early, and it is spring, but yeah, it’s nice to get going."
Cain also collected his first hit -- a single off Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija -- a day after Madison Bumgarner picked up his first. Cain said he shot Bumgarner a look while running to first base.
"Yeah, he was bragging about his hit," Cain said. "I just got lucky and he threw one into my swing. You saw the second swing. It was pretty bad."
Maybe the only bad part of Cain’s day.
• After Cain departed, left-hander David Huff made his spring debut and allowed a run on two hits in one inning. Huff, who was acquired for cash considerations from the New York Yankees this offseason but hadn’t pitched this spring with shoulder issues, is still a candidate for a long relief role if healthy.
"I thought he threw the ball fine first time out," Bochy said. "We’ll try to get him stretched out here, but it was good to see him pitch an inning."
• Outfielders Michael Morse (calf) and Hunter Pence (elbow) both returned to the lineup after missing two games for precautionary reasons. Brandon Crawford was also back in after being away for two days for the birth of his second daughter.
• The Cubs’ travel roster today had a decidedly familiar feel. Nate Schierholtz and Eli Whiteside were both in the starting lineup, and left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who threw the first Giants no-hitter in nearly 33 years back in 2009, saved the game for the Cubs with a spotless ninth inning.
"I pull for these guys," Bochy said. "They did a lot for the organization.
"I was trying to get a helmet and a bat myself (to face Sanchez), but didn’t have time," he added with a smile. "I was just waiting for someone to get on base."
• Tomorrow’s print coverage is all Bonds, all the time. But in case you missed it this morning,here’s our story on Bonds’ arrival
and meeting with the media, in which he avoided quite a few controversial topics but did state his case for the Hall of Fame. Here too is atranscript of most of that morning session
The notebook has some observations from Bonds’ first day, which Bochy said he spent mostly talking with hitters individually around the cage during batting practice. Bochy said Bonds watched the game from the dugout but didn’t address groups in meetings -- right now it seems he prefers to talk with players one-on-one.
Cain said he had no problem doing so with Bonds even during Bonds’ notoriously prickly playing days, and that he would encourage the young players in Giants camp to seek out Bonds’ advice whenever possible.
Cain also showed a pretty impressive deadpan when a reporter suggested earlier he ask for some hitting tips himself from the new instructor in camp. "Who’s that?" Cain said. "Yeah I saw Rich (Aurilia) today. Maybe I’ll ask him. Or Randy (Winn)."
• Tony Abreu, who’s battling for a backup infielder spot, had a bit of rough day at second base. In the seventh, Abreu couldn’t glove a sharp line drive at him with two runners on that was ruled a single and allowed a run to score.
The next play was a potential double-play grounder to Crawford that the shortstop made a wide throw on to second base. Abreu made an athletic play to catch the ball, but it pulled him off the bag and his relay to first sailed into the dugout as another run scored and both runners moved up.
The jury’s still out on Marco Scutaro’s availability for Opening Day, with Bochy saying the Giants may have to look for Plan B if Scutaro hasn’t played a game by this weekend. Along with Abreu, Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Hicks are candidates for that Plan B.