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San Francisco Giants: Cain’s Start Inspires Optimism

Apr 8, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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Beating the Dodgers is always reason for San Francisco Giants fans to rejoice. But the greatest takeaway from Friday night’s extra-inning, comeback win was not a second consecutive victory against a heated rival and the Giants’ strongest competition for the National League West title.

It was pitcher Matt Cain’s impressive season debut, a steady six-inning performance during which he scattered six hits and allowed two runs to a Dodgers lineup that had scored 31 runs through the first four games of the season. A strong Cain outing is hardly a new phenomenon—it’s just that our familiarity with it had long been fading since the last time we saw this.

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Cain at one point stood as the Giants’ ace, a status that crystallized when he threw a perfect game in 2012. It was in the middle of a season in which he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and wins, and it was during the first year into a five-year, $112.5 million contract. Cain was 27 years old then, just entering his prime and establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

But he followed that up with a subpar 2013, followed by two injury-plagued seasons that included surgery to remove bone chips and spurs from his elbow, as well as a flexor tendon strain and elbow irritation.

Cain said he developed some bad mechanical habits along the way that he needed to break, and that he needed to learn how to pitch all over again.

So now, one start into the 2016 season, Cain appears able to pitch effectively against the highest competition, having inspired more reason for optimism in the six innings he completed Friday night than he ever did in the 150 innings he tossed over the past two seasons.

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If this one start proves to be a sign of Cain’s return, the Giants just received a boost as important as the Johnny Cueto signing. Between these two and Madison Bumgarner, and if Jeff Samardzija rounds into form before too long and Jake Peavy and/or Chris Heston holds down the fifth spot in the rotation (which either one is fully capable of doing), the Giants have the makings for a rotation as formidable as any in Major League Baseball.

It just depends on how these “ifs” manifest.

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