Giants manager Bruce Bochy chose to start Matt Cain in Sunday’s season finale envisioning the kind of outing Cain wound up having.
Cain ended a frustrating season on a high note by throwing five scoreless innings in the Giants’ 7-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies, and heads into the offseason on the heels of one of his best outings of the year. Bochy had hoped for such an outing from Cain, who was making his first start since Aug. 25 and not stretched out to handle a starter’s workload, yet needed just 65 pitches to complete five innings while allowing just two hits.
“He should take away that he’s back,” Bochy said. “What a great job he did. I thought he had good stuff, off-speed pitches were good, he kept them down, hit his spots. He should be really encouraged.”
It may be premature to declare that Cain is fully “back.” The right-hander finishes 2015 with a 5.79 ERA in 13 games (11 starts), and pitched just three times after Aug. 25 due to nerve irritation in his elbow. Cain also missed the first three months of the season with a flexor tendon strain, which further delayed his comeback from elbow surgery last August to remove bone chips.
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All that added up to a trying year for Cain, who’d come into spring training with hopes of again being the kind of front-end starter he was for the Giants before his arm troubles. Yet after his outing Sunday, Cain said that remains his intention going into next season.
“That was my goal going into this year and I don’t think that changes,” Cain said. “I want to be right there with (Madison Bumgarner), doing the same thing he’s been doing.”
Cain said he felt his line Sunday reflected the kind of stuff he had. He attacked the strike zone early and recorded 11 fly-ball outs. He cautioned, though, that he wasn’t “going to hang everything on today.”
“I felt like I had good rhythm, I felt like I was throwing the ball where I wanted to, I got a lot of quick outs,” Cain said. “I’d done that earlier in the season and in the past couple of months as well and sometimes the results didn’t show.”
Still, Cain acknowledged there positives to take out of his game. He allowed a two-out triple to Carlos Gonzalez in the first inning, but after walking Nolan Arenado got Corey Dickerson to pop out to end the inning. He escaped a first-and-third, two-out jam in the third by getting Arenado, who finished as the N.L. co-leader with 42 homers, to bounce into a fielder’s choice.
“That’s what’ll be good, sitting in the offseason and thinking about that, and also being able to wipe the slate clean, have a nice offseason, not worry about rehabbing and all that stuff,” Cain said. “It’s definitely a good way to end the year.”
Now Cain gets to sit back and see how the Giants handle their rotation situation over the offseason. Bochy recently said the Giants will be in the market for starters, and Cain said he’ll be interested to see what moves the front office makes.
“If they want to go out and grab a good guy, a big guy, whatever, it’ll be the more the merrier,” Cain said. He added that the Giants “saw what (Mike) Leake was capable of doing this year.” Leake, an impending free agent, recently said he’s open to re-signing with the Giants, who had liked him for a long time before acquiring the right-hander at the trade deadline.
Cain said while he’s looking forward to having a normal offseason that doesn’t involve rehabbing from an injury, “some of it will just be about getting rest, healing, letting my elbow just have some time off.” Ideally for the Giants, both Cain and his elbow will be well-rested and in vintage form when he reports to camp in February.
“I thought this outing (Sunday) would really be important for him as he goes into the offseason, to get that confidence back, that swagger that he has,” Bochy said. “And as we go into spring training, I think this last start should do so much for him.”
▪ Getting “Cained” has become Giants parlance for a starter having a good outing spoiled by the bullpen, and appropriately Cain was on the receiving end of that treatment Sunday. The details of the Rockies’ stunning seven-run ninth inning, and everything else about the season finale, can be found here.
Also, here’s a story about the Giants finishing with the National League’s best batting average for the first time since 1993. The Giants hit .267, finishing ahead of the Rockies’ .265 mark. In that story, hitting coach Hensley Meulens credits the Giants’ players with buying into the system of “keeping the line moving,” and highlights some of his favorite situational hitting statistics.
▪ Buster Posey led the Giants’ offensive charge with another remarkable season, batting .318 with 19 home runs and 95 RBIs. One note about his year: Posey finished with more walks (56) than strikeouts (52), which he attributed partly to having a good year putting the ball in play with two strikes.
“That’s always a goal,” Posey said. “I want to put the ball in play.”
Posey hit .247 this season in two-strike counts for a Giants team that had the highest average in the league with two strikes. Posey also started attacking the first pitch more and hit .471 (41-for-87) with six homers when putting the first pitch in play. He said one thing he wants to “kind of hone in on” is being more selective when swinging early in counts.
“I get in certain modes sometimes where I feel like no matter where they throw it, I can hit it,” Posey said. “Maybe just (be) a little more zoned in to a specific spot.”
Posey found himself playing more first base the final two weeks with Brandon Belt out with a concussion. But he made it clear he still considers himself a catcher, and said that is where his immediate future lies.
“I’m going to do whatever Boch and the management thinks gives us the best chance to win,” Posey said. “But I definitely still enjoy catching. That’s the spot I want to be -- to my wife’s dismay.”
▪ Ryan Vogelsong has made it clear he does not expect to be back with the Giants next season. He wasn’t one of the 11 pitchers used in Sunday’s loss, but after the game, the right-hander did take up a microphone and address the AT&T Park crowd on behalf of the team.
Vogelsong echoed Hunter Pence’s words from last season that, “Saying you’re the best fans in the world doesn’t do you justice,” and added, “There’s something so honorable about wearing this (Giants) jersey, I can’t even describe it to you.”
Vogelsong is headed for free agency and wants to be somewhere next spring where he has a chance at cracking the rotation. Bochy did not rule out the possibility of a return for Vogelsong, but the right-hander openly acknowledged that Sunday might have been his last game in that Giants uniform.
“I don’t know where I’ll be next year or what the front of my jersey is going to say,” said Vogelsong. “But I do know one thing: I will always, always be a Giant.”
▪ Matt Duffy might not win the Rookie of the Year award -- he had the misfortune of debuting in the same year, at the same position, as Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant -- but he finished his first full major-league season with a .295 average, 12 home runs, 77 RBIs and the N.L.’s longest consecutive games played streak at 118.
“I have become a big fan of his this year, just with the hard-nosed, grinder mentality,” Posey said.
Other of Duffy’s teammates clearly felt the same way, as they voted him the Willie Mac Award winner as the team’s most inspirational player -- the first Giants rookie ever to get that honor. With Duffy’s emergence, the Giants have an entirely homegrown infield, all 28 years old or younger, forming a core going into next year.
“We looked real good this year as a team offensively,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “We were top three in pretty much every category, I think that’s a pretty good start. And we have a lot of young guys in that lineup. I think we’ll be ready for next year for sure.”
▪ The Giants’ offseason begins Monday, when front office members Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans will address the media along with Bochy about this season and their plans for 2016. More on that to come.