SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Matt Cain has thrown a perfect game. He started for the NL All-Star team. He was the starting pitcher in each of the Giants’ three clinching postseason victories.
Is there any honor that Cain hasn’t received?
Well yes, actually. He’s never started on opening day.
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I know, surprising, huh? But you can look it up. Tim Lincecum was the Giants’ opening-day starter in each of the past four seasons. Prior to that, Barry Zito got the assignment in 2007 and ’08. Then you’re going back to the days of Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, Russ Ortiz, etc.
The Giants haven’t announced it yet, but Cain is expected to be the pitcher asked to set the tone for 2013 when the defending World Series champions open the season April 1 at Dodger Stadium.
It’s a story that should be more about Cain’s achievements than Lincecum’s slippage. Yet after starting the last four openers, and after winning two Cy Young Awards, will it be hard for Lincecum to give up the honor of that first game?
Not at all, he told me.
“No, because you try to earn that spot, and you have to keep earning that spot,” said Lincecum, an hour after throwing his first mound session of the spring on Wednesday. “You want to get off to a good start and I feel Matt Cain is the one guy to get us off on the right foot. I feel like any of our guys could. But with his success the last couple years and his consistency, it’s led to that feeling, like, `When Matt goes out there, we’ve got a great chance to win.’ That’s what it’s like on his day to pitch.”
There’s no need for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to announce his rotation alignment this early in the spring, but Lincecum could fall anywhere from second to fifth. And although that might be a big deal to some fans, it wouldn’t be a big deal to him.
“One or five, nope,” he said. “The way I’m feeling, I’m trying to earn a spot again in my own right. Not that I don’t feel I don’t belong with these guys, but in terms of putting in the hours and the work, I feel like I need to act as if I’m not even on this team right now.
“I’ve got to open eyes again.”
In all honesty, the opening rotation order is usually an overblown issue. After the season’s first week, it all becomes a scramble anyway because of off days and the like. Aces don’t always draw aces, No. 2 starters don’t always draw No. 2 starters, etc.
(One fact worth noting, though: whomever the Giants slot as the No. 4 starter also will get the honor of taking the ball for the home opener, when the World Series banner is raised.)
Opening day is a different matter, though. There’s no mistaking the message that the front office and coaching staff send when they select their pitcher for the first game. Usually, they pick their best pitcher -- the guy who gives them the best shot to win. But more can enter the equation. They often give it to the pitcher they most respect and admire, and Cain is flush in all currencies.
Count Lincecum among those who believe Cain’s time has come.