PHILADELPHIA – Matt Cain sliced his hand making a sandwich and then he tweaked his hamstring, necessitating two trips to the disabled list prior to the All-Star break.
This is different. This is his arm.
For the first time, Cain, the longest-tenured Giant and one of the most durable pitchers in franchise history, is on the disabled list with an arm usage injury. Despite getting a cortisone shot prior to the break and receiving 12 days of rest, his right elbow inflammation remained an issue when he tried to play catch over the weekend in Miami.
So the Giants recalled right-hander George Kontos and will replace Cain with Yusmeiro Petit in the rotation on Tuesday.
The good news: An MRI showed no damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. Cain does not require Tommy John surgery. The bad news: Nobody knows just how long Cain’s elbow will take to calm down.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we know,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It can go down in a day or two. It could linger. I don’t know how it will affect him the rest of the season.”
That’s not encouraging for a team that pitched its way to two World Series titles and will need a strong rotation above all else if they hope to fend off the Dodgers in the NL West.
The Giants have known for four years that Cain has loose bodies – bone chips, essentially – in his elbow. At times they lodge in a sensitive spot and can cause inflammation or an impingement, where it’s impossible to straighten the arm.
Cain, who has steadfastly refused to acknowledge injuries over the years, said the elbow issue was something relatively new. But Bochy acknowledged Cain has dealt with it since the spring, and off and on before that. It's clear he hasn't been the same pitcher over the last two years. He is 2-7 with a 4.18 ERA, his 1.3 home runs and 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings are the worst rates of his career and his 2.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio is his worst since he was a 23-year-old in 2008.
Why not just have arthroscopic surgery to clean out the loose bodies, especially since recovery time can be as little as six weeks?
“They say it’s pretty simple when you have those (but) any time, you try to stay away from a procedure,” Cain said. “There’s really no reason to need that step right now.”
With $60 million owed to Cain over the next three seasons, with an additional guaranteed $7.5 million buyout on an option for 2018, don’t be surprised if the Giants broach the subject of postseason surgery with him.
“It can be tricky,” Bochy said. “Sometimes it can get to the point when you go in and clean it out. I’m sure with any surgery there’s a risk there.”
Bochy said Petit would remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future, but Cain’s injury should intensify the Giants’ search for pitching on the trade front. Now that Cain is on the DL, though, the Giants might have less leverage in talks.
Don’t expect an expensive pitcher like Cliff Lee. The Giants already have $125 million committed to next year’s payroll, not including arbitration raises to Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. They’ll need to re-sign or replace third baseman Pablo Sandoval, left fielder Michael Morse and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong as well. Right-hander Sergio Romo will be a free agent, too.
So even with a significant payroll increase, it’s going to be hard for the Giants to spend a lot of money to address one of many needs. They’ll need to spread the available funds, as GM Brian Sabean often puts it.