MIAMI -- Matt Cain conveyed his usual mound presence Thursday afternoon: square-shouldered, square-jawed and commanding. He and the Giants are convinced that the pitches to match his demeanor soon will come more frequently and effectively.
Despite the Giants' 5-4 loss to Miami that concluded the Marlins' first three-game home sweep of San Francisco since Aug. 9-11, 1999, Cain showed enough promise during his five-inning outing to indicate that better days await him. Making his first start since last July 9, before elbow surgery and a strained flexor tendon sidelined him, Cain absorbed the decision while allowing five runs and seven hits in five innings.
"The ball feels a lot better coming out of my hand," Cain said.
His fastball topped out at around 91 mph -- not quite vintage velocity for the 30-year-old right-hander, but enough to thrive if he spots it properly.
"If that progresses with getting more innings, that's great," Cain said. "But it feels comfortable now. It's just about making good pitches."
Said Andrew Susac, Cain's catcher, "His slider was sharp and his fastball command was a lot better than I thought it was going to be."
Cain nursed a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning, when Miami vaulted ahead with four runs. Opposing pitcher Jose Fernandez, whose own comeback appearance following Tommy John surgery stoked the Marlins Park crowd of 32,598, socked a leadoff homer. Four batters later, Justin Bour belted his third homer of the series, a three-run drive that settled in the upper deck.
A one-out walk to Christian Yelich hastened Cain's difficulty in the fifth. Cain issued four walks, accounting for his primary shortcoming.
Nevertheless, Giants manager Bruce Bochy liked what he saw from Cain, who was projected to be the rotation's No. 2 starter after the elbow surgery to remove bone chips and spurs limited him to 15 starts last season.
"I think he should be encouraged," Bochy said of the three-time National League All-Star. "His first four innings, I thought he was pretty good. He's going to get better, building up his strength and stamina. He looks healthy, I'll say that."
The Giants, who finished 2-5 against the Marlins and have lost four of the last five season series to them, might have fared better if they could have figured out Bour. Besides culminating Miami's fifth-inning surge Thursday, Bour delivered a three-run, ninth-inning homer that erased San Francisco's 5-3 lead Wednesday. Each homer, said Bochy, came on a poorly located pitch.
That's not what Cain thought about the 1-0 pitch Bour connected on in the fifth, which he tried to throw inside. Did he miss his spot? "No, it was in," Cain said. "He hit it."
Fernandez, who won the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year award for his pitching, proved to be multi-talented. A respectable .203 lifetime hitter, he connected on a 1-1 delivery for his second career homer.
"I just didn't make a very good pitch," Cain said. "It was right down the middle."
That should occur less frequently in the near future, the Giants believe.