SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy had a decision to make. His starting pitcher Friday night, Matt Cain, needed to record one more out to qualify for a win. But after entering the fifth inning with a 6-1 lead, Cain had allowed four runs, and had two runners still on base with Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond coming to the plate.
Bochy made his decision, and took Cain out of the game.
It proved an effective move, as Jeremy Affeldt got Desmond to ground out, preserving the Giants’ one-run lead in a game they eventually won, 8-5. It was the first of 13 outs recorded by the Giants bullpen -- and perhaps the most crucial, in that it prevented the Giants from having to start over from scratch after they’d handed Cain an early five-run lead by knocking Nationals ace Max Scherzer out after the third inning.
Cain had allowed only a first-inning run on a Bryce Harper sacrifice fly when things unraveled in the fifth. Danny Espinosa hit a leadoff home run. Jose Lobaton doubled. Pitcher Doug Fister dropped a bunt that neither Cain nor third baseman Matt Duffy fielded. And after Cain retired the next two hitters, he threw a meaty first-pitch fastball to Harper that the Nationals’ phenom crushed to right-center for his 30th home run.
"When you look at him at moments, he’s the old Matt Cain," Bochy said after the game. "And just occasionally he gets out of sync."
Cain exited after two more batters reached on a Duffy error and a single. He was charged with five runs in 4 2/3 innings, and has now allowed 18 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings in his last four starts, for an 8.24 ERA. His season ERA sits at 6.05.
Asked about his level of concern regarding Cain’s recent performance, Bochy expressed confidence that Cain, who spent the first half of the season on the DL, is "going to get better and better with work." But he also sounded noncommittal regarding Cain’s status in the rotation, saying: "I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do."
"He’s been really good, and then he’s had his off-innings, and that’s what’s gotten him," Bochy said. "It happened in Atlanta. He was cruising, then he just gets out of sync.
"His stuff is good, very encouraged with where he’s at with his stuff. He’s just off a little bit sometimes with the command, and that’s what’s cost him with the long ball."
Cain agreed that Harper’s home run Friday was a location mistake: "We were just trying to pitch careful to him, and I just ended up pulling a fastball right down the middle." He said he still felt strong in the fifth inning, and that he didn’t think his final line reflected the stuff he had Friday night.
"That’s frustrating," Cain said. "But I know that I’m feeling good, I’m throwing a lot of quality pitches. It’s just getting past that little hump of making that one pitch when I need it, or doing those things.
"Each start I feel good going into the game," he said. "I feel good with what I’ve been doing in between the starts. I just kind of need that last little click to happen. And I feel that’s it. It’s nothing major, it’s just that one little inning, making a pitch here or there."
The problem right now is those little innings for Cain are turning into big ones. Affeldt helped prevent the fifth from becoming even bigger Friday night, starting a contribution of 4 1/3 scoreless innings from the Giants’ bullpen. Afterward, Cain could only praise those relief efforts.
"That’s unbelievable," he said. "That was tremendous."
* Bochy, too, lauded the bullpen for "just a terrific job." The Giants used five relievers, and only two of them came in with nobody on base. Those were left-handers Josh Osich and Javier Lopez, who entered to face Harper in the seventh and ninth, respectively, and who both retired Harper on fly-outs.
For the second consecutive night, Sergio Romo had an impressive outing, recording three outs without allowing a runner. A remarkable stat: Right-handed hitters have 103 at-bats this season against Romo. They have struck out in 50 of those at-bats, and are hitting .146 against the Giants’ set-up man.
* Bochy was asked about letting Cain face Harper in the fifth, and whether he considered pitching around the Nationals’ slugger with an empty base and two outs. Bochy explained that he didn’t want to bring the tying run to the plate in Ryan Zimmerman that early in the game, though he added: "If I’d known that pitch was going to get away from (Cain), I probably would’ve put him on."
"You’re hoping (Cain) makes a pitch, and the two previous hitters, he made some great pitches," Bochy said. "That one got away from him."
* Updates on the injury front: Tim Hudson made a rehab appearance for High-A San Jose on Friday night and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings allowing one hit with no walks and two strikeouts. Andrew Susac, meanwhile, caught all nine innings of the game and went 2-for-4 with a home run.
Bochy said before the game that Susac will join Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday, catch and then check in with the Giants, who could either activate him at that point or "give him a few more games."
* From the Giants’ post-game notes: They’ve now faced a former Cy Young winner seven times this season and are 4-3. They won’t see another during this series. Game three has right-hander Jake Peavy (2-5, 3.75) opposing Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez (9-4, 3.50) on Saturday. First pitch at 7:05 p.m.