September 23 - Raising Cain
Normally a six walk performance would be reason for a pitcher to be criticized. Not
when that performance came from 20-year-old phenom Matt Cain. The Giants
right-hander threw a complete game shutout on September 9th against the Cubs,
but observers were impressed with his ability to keep his team in the ballgame
despite control problems in his last start against the Padres. Tonight, he will face
former Giant Livan Hernandez in Washington as San Francisco clings to their
slim hopes in the National League West.
Cain went 6 innings against San Diego giving up 2 runs, both earned, on 3 hits
with the ugly walk total. Cain didn’t show good command but his composure
stood out to Padres broadcaster Mark Grant.
“I was very impressed with the way he handled himself out there on the mound,” said Grant. “Despite
all the walks his kept his team in the game and kept battling.”
Grant can speak from experience about Cain as the two have similar stories about their early careers
in the big leagues. Grant was the Giants 1st round pick in 1981 out of high school while Cain was
also a prep 1st rounder in 2002. Grant shot up the minor league ladder and made his Major League
debut on April 27, 1984 as a 20 year old. Cain has also moved quickly through the system and
became the first 20 year old to start for the Giants since Grant in 1984.
Grant saw some similarities between himself and the new Giants phenom, but some of the
differences are what could lead to Cain having a more successful big league career.
“I think I had a better fastball when I came up but he has better mechanics,” said Grant. “I only had a
fastball and a curve when I came up but he has more of a repertoire than I did.”
On Wednesday, Cain only showed glimpses of that repertoire relying almost solely on a mid-90’s
fastball to limit the Padres. Over 80% of the pitches he threw were heaters. He only flashed his
breaking pitches occasionally when ahead in the count but those breaking pitches could hold the key
to his future success.
“He already had a good fastball,” said Grant. “If he can develop a breaking pitch that he can throw on
any count and a change-up, then he could be really dangerous.”
Despite the struggles that Cain had in that start, former Major League pitcher Bob Scanlan took a lot
of positives from the start.
“For a 20 year old kid, he’s way ahead of the curve,” said Scanlan. “For the Giants, he’ll be a power
righty that will be a nice contrast to lefty Noah Lowry in the rotation.”
Scanlan echoed Grant’s sentiments about Cain’s composure and pointed to a jam in the 6th inning
as an example.
With runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out, Cain was left in to pitch to pinch hitter Mark Sweeney. While
this might not seem significant, Felipe Alou called on his bullpen the most times in the National
League last year but stuck with the rookie to get out of the inning.
“You could tell that Felipe Alou has confidence in him by leaving him in the game with runners on
base in the 6th inning.”
Even with the way Cain has won over those who have seen him throw, his first few starts have been
overshadowed by the debut of another phenom. Seattle’s 19-year old right hander Felix Hernandez
has burst onto the scene, drawing comparisons to Dwight Gooden in terms of the way he’s
dominated hitters at a young age.
Scanlan has had a chance to see both pitchers throw and agrees that Hernandez is worthy of the
“I saw him throw last year when he was in A-ball with Inland Empire pitching against Lake Elsinore,”
said Scanlan. “His stuff was electric. I asked their pitching coach was Hernandez was doing there
and was told ‘He won’t be here for long.’”
As the walks in Cain’s last start suggest, command is what separates the two young right-handers.
“Hernandez’s ability to control the ball down in the strike zone is what makes him better right now,”
said Scanlan. “Cain didn’t keep the ball down consistently in this last start. The more he keeps the
ball down when he wants to, the better he’ll be. When he is able to keep the ball down in the zone
early and then go up in the zone to get outs, he’ll be tough.”
Both pitchers are slated for big things in their career as they were the two highest rated pitchers in
Baseball America’s Top 100 to make their Major League debut’s this year. Cain was the 13th ranked
prospect while Hernandez checked as the second best behind Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
Still, the Giants are happy to have Cain as the start to his big league career has been very impressive.
In his first four major league starts, he has allowed only 11 hits in 27 innings of work and has posted
an ERA of 2.00.
At 20 years old, he has time to work on the things that can make him a great pitcher like developing
his breaking pitches, keeping the ball down in the zone and learning to add and subtract on his
At such a young age, observers are more impressed with his strengths than his weaknesses at this
point, excited to speculate about what his future could hold.
“He’s pitching in the big leagues already,” said Scanlan. “At 20 years old, he’s where most guys hope
they are at 27.”