SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Cain has started Opening Day, All-Star Games and World Series clinchers, but that resume didn’t keep him from feeling a few butterflies when he took the mound for a March 9 exhibition against the Dodgers.
Cain has anxiously waited for this day since July 9, his final start of the 2014 season. He had bone chips removed from his throwing elbow the next month and watched the title run from the sidelines, but on Monday, Cain was front and center once again. He was as comfortable in the spotlight as ever, throwing two perfect innings at Scottsdale Stadium in his spring debut.
“That went really good,” Cain said. “It was definitely good to go back out there and get that extra competitive adrenaline going, which was really nice.”
Cain faced the Dodgers’ ‘A’ team, and he barely broke a sweat. He poured in a first-pitch strike to Jimmy Rollins to open the game and three pitches later got Rollins to fly out. A groundout by Carl Crawford and flyout by Yasiel Puig — who was loudly booed by the Scottsdale Stadium crowd — put a bow on a 12-pitch first inning. Cain was pleased when he saw the lineup and noticed it was pretty similar to what the Dodgers will use in the regular season.
“I want to go out there and compete and throw against those guys because we’re going to see them a ton, obviously,” Cain said.
Cain came back out for the second and got two more groundouts and a flyout on just eight pitches. Thirteen of his 20 pitches were strikes, and Cain said he threw all four of his pitches, twice spinning off sliders. His fastball hovered around 90 mph — not surprising given this was his debut — and topped out at 92.
"I thought he looked great," catcher Buster Posey said. "Even in the bullpen session warming up before the game, he was very smooth and in control. It carried over into the game. Everything seems very smooth and rhythmic and effortless."
Manager Bruce Bochy felt Cain's outing went as well as it could have.
"Obviously we're happy with the first outing," Bochy said. "He had good command, good stuff, and he used all his pitches. For the layoff he's had, that was an impressive two innings for him."
The biggest positive wasn’t the clean line in the box score, but the fact that afterwards Cain needed little maintenance work. While rehabbing from the elbow surgery, Cain had a spur removed from his right ankle. He said he doesn’t even have to get treatment for the ankle anymore, but he’ll be more careful with his arm this season, in part because he’s now 30 years old.
“I might just try to watch it, you know, on days after starting and in between starts I’ll maybe watch the intensity of how hard I’m going to throw,” Cain said. “That’s more of just … not wasting them playing catch. Try to use your good throws when you’re out there playing the game.”
Cain hopes to string enough of those good throws together to return to the form that made him one of the game’s most trusted starters. He had six consecutive 200-inning seasons prior to 2013 and said that number is a goal for him this year, too.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “I’ve always said that to you guys: That’s the biggest thing for me is to stay healthy and get to 200 innings and I think everything else will kind of take care of itself.”
Cain no longer needs to be the rotation’s lead workhorse. After skipping the first week of spring games, he slotted into the rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner and right-hander Jake Peavy, who replaced Cain late last July. Still, Cain is being counted on by the organization and fans. Winning one title without Cain took a superhuman effort from Bumgarner. Trying to do it again would be asking too much, and Cain knows there is pressure on his shoulders.
“I said that at FanFest, that I feel like I’ve underperformed the last couple of years,” he said. “I need to go out there and do it for myself and for these guys, too. I want to go out there and throw 200 innings, I want to go out there and give those guys a chance to win every fifth day. That’s my goal and that’s what I want to do. That’s the plan.”