MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Giants rotation shaping up after Cain's outing

Right-hander pitches into sixth inning in Minor League game

Giants rotation shaping up after Cain's outing

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If there was any sense of panic among the Giants' brass about the state of the starting rotation, that began to dissipate Monday when Matt Cain pitched without incident into the sixth inning of a Minor League game.

Madison Bumgarner will embark on the same routine as Cain on Tuesday in preparation for his Opening Day start next Monday against the Brewers in Milwaukee.

But don't worry about Bumgarner, who missed a start earlier in camp because of nagging injuries in his right rib cage and left foot.

"I feel plenty ready," he said.

The fog started to lift Monday when Cain looked ambulatory, something he hasn't been the last two seasons because of elbow and forearm injuries. Add the cyst that was removed from the inside of his right elbow earlier in camp and his spring progress certainly has been delayed.

Even so, heading into Monday night's game at Scottsdale Stadium against the D-backs, Giants starters were 29th out of the 30 Major Leagues teams with a 7.94 spring ERA.

"I feel better than I did two weeks ago," said veteran Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti. "I was a little worried about it. We were going to make sure we had a [Chris] Heston or a [Clayton] Blackburn or anybody else we had to supplement these guys.

"But I'm not worried now about [Cain's] arm strength as I was a week and a half ago."

Now Cain has to do it against Major League hitters and he'll get that chance Saturday against the A's in the final game of the Bay Bridge Series at Oakland, Righetti said.

To be sure, the Giants usually go as far as their starting pitching takes them, winning the World Series three times since 2010. But the starting staff was in much worse shape coming out of camp last year and, of course, they didn't even go to the postseason.

At this time last year, Cain was coming out of camp with elbow and forearm problems and didn't make his first start until July 2, about a year after bone spurs were surgically removed from the elbow. Jake Peavy's hip and back were so out of whack, he made two starts in April and didn't pitch again until July 3.

Cain's scoreless outing

Tim Lincecum was experiencing mechanical and physical problems, and after winning four consecutive decisions in May, he fell apart and was gone for good on June 27, never to return. He's still recovering from hip surgery.

Tim Hudson had what he called "olditis" in his right shoulder and missed most of July and all of August.

Really, there were few reinforcements. Heston came out of nowhere, winning 11 times before the end of July, including a no-hitter against the Mets at Citi Field on June 9. The Giants acquired Mike Leake from the Reds at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and he promptly strained a hamstring and missed two weeks.

It was that kind of season, and the harbinger of it all was the way the pitching evolved right here last spring.

"Yeah, right now I feel a lot better than I did then," Righetti said.

And for good reason. The Giants spent $220 million this offseason on free agents Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who have been rounding into shape without much incident. Peavy is healthy and says he's anticipating a renaissance this season.

Samardzija's strong start

Cain may have had his setback this spring, but he's pitching without pain for the first time in two years.

On Monday, his fastball ranged from the high 80s to the low 90s, and he mixed in a slider and breaking pitch. He tossed about 90 pitches, allowing a run on four hits with five strikeouts.

"The ball was coming out fine, maybe sitting around 89, 90," Cain said. "Like we talked about last time, there's another mile [per hour] or two as the arm speed and strength get going. If not, that's fine."

Righetti said Cain threw free and easy Monday "and that was a good sign."

"In fact, he didn't have to do a long warmup, play long toss and get really heated up," Righetti said. "Now it's pretty normal, for him anyway."

Still, Righetti admitted Cain is in uncharted territory. He's made only 11 starts since July 9, 2014, when that season ended for him for good. He may never again be the power pitcher who won 93 games through 2013.

Where Cain goes from here is a complete unknown.

"Everything you say or speculate about him is probably true," Righetti said, "in terms of what he has to do, and the next game against Oakland in the Bay, I think will be nice as far as the adrenaline, the atmosphere. It's always nice for our guys to get out there. I think that will be nice for him, too."

In his two Cactus League starts, Cain allowed nine runs on 14 hits -- three homers -- with four walks, four strikeouts and a 12.15 ERA.

Bumgarner has made four starts and has allowed 14 runs on 21 hits -- four homers -- with three walks, 12 strikeouts and an 11.12 ERA. He hasn't pitched any farther than 3 2/3 innings.

The left-hander said he's not worried about any of that. But he's pitching in a Minor League game Tuesday so Righetti can control how many times he gets up and down and how many innings he pitches.

"Bum is another guy we're trying to get back in line," Righetti said. "He didn't lose any strength or any arm stamina or anything like that. But he's lost time."

With the Giants breaking camp after Tuesday's game against the Royals in Surprise, the one thing they don't have left is the luxury of time.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.