Saturday, in his first outing since Aug. 25, Cain provided glimpses of the form that made him a three-time All-Star.
"Early in the inning, I was in and out of my mechanics," Cain said. "But sometimes that happens. I finished the inning like I wanted to, which was good."
Cain's fastball hovered between 91-93 mph, approximating his usual velocity. But the 30-year-old resisted measuring his success based on those figures.
"I'm trying to get away from that," Cain said, "because there's times where I focus on that, and if I do it, it can be more of a distraction, worrying more about what the velocity is going to be than worrying about staying [sound] mechanics-wise."
Cain walked the first hitter he faced, A.J. Pollock, on a full-count pitch. This might not have been such a bad idea, since Pollock had extended his hitting streak to eight games while singling twice and lining out in his first three appearances. Pollock stole second base, proceeded to third base on a throwing error by catcher Trevor Brown, who was making his Major League debut, and scored on Ender Inciarte's single.
Cain still had three outs to negotiate, and he did so effectively. He walked Paul Goldschmidt and coaxed David Peralta's fielder's choice before recording Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Phil Gosselin as his strikeout victims. Saltalamacchia went down on an 87-mph changeup; Gosselin fished for an 85-mph slider.
Cain, who threw 19 strikes in 32 pitches, quickly regained Bochy's faith. "If he hadn't thrown 30-plus pitches, I would have let him go another inning," Bochy said.
Asked whether he knew what his next step would be, Cain said, "That's a good question. I'm not sure exactly. I think just playing it by ear."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiants5 2beat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.