When the season started, the San Francisco Giants had to be hoping that Matt Cain would regain the form that made him one of the best starting pitchers in baseballs just a few years ago, and that Jake Peavy still had enough veteran savvy to squeeze out another productive season much like what he did in 2015.
Instead, Cain and Peavy have hardly been more effective than batting-practice pitchers.
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Cain looked good in his first start of the season, when he held the Dodgers to two runs over six innings. Four starts later, including his six-run blunder against the New York Mets on Saturday, his season ERA is 7.00—a number that makes you want to look away, like a horror film preview when you’ve just settled in for a feel-good flick.
Obviously the Giants can’t tolerate such inadequate performance for too much longer…though it is just the first month of the season, and it’s not rare for players to look awful to start out and then turn things around (or vice versa).
Still, Cain hasn’t pitched at a high level since 2012, back when Melky Cabrera was busy getting popped for PEDs, Hunter Pence was joining the team as deadline-deal pickup, and Barry Zito was a semi-effective fifth starter. So, it’s been a while.
His walk and strikeout rates aren’t great, but they’re not alarmingly off of his career numbers, either. The issue is that he’s just a lot easier to hit these days. His career batting average against is an impressive .231. It’s even more impressive when considering that includes the .293 that opponents hit against him in 2015 and the .318 that they’re hitting against him this year.
To point out the obvious, unless Cain gets better at reducing the number hits he gives up, he’s not going to do the Giants much good.
But why pick on Cain so much, when Peavy has been even worse?
He, too, gave up six runs against the Mets this weekend—all in one inning before being pulled with no outs in the third inning. That ugly outing pushed his ERA to 8.61, his WHIP to 2.00, and his BAA to .382. In 23 innings he has given up 39 hits! Only two of which, by the way, are home runs. It’s possible that, considering he’s not giving up the long ball too frequently, that he’ll find a groove, and those base hits will eventually land in gloves more and on open grass less. But it’s difficult to fathom an improvement as drastic as cutting the ERA in half, especially from a former power pitcher whose fastball now sits in the high 80s.
There’s still time for these two to turn around their seasons. But whether they have the skills anymore to do so is the less certain matter.
If improvements don’t come soon, the Giants will need to consider putting Chris Heston back in the rotation. That would help with one of the rotation spots, but then the Giants would need to get more resourceful for the other spot.
Most of their top pitching prospects have disappointed thus far in the minor leagues. That includes 2014 1st round pick Tyler Beede, former top prospect Kyle Crick, and sometimes-promising youngsters Clayton Blackburn, Adalberto Mejia and Chris Stratton—none of whom has an ERA
The one exception is Joan Gregorio, who has dominated at Double-A Richmond, with a 2.05 ERA .162 BAA, and 27 strikeouts in 22 innings (four starts).
Jumping from Double-A to the Majors is not ideal, but it’s also not unheard of, nor is it necessarily too daunting. The problem is that Gregorio is 24 years old, so his gaudy numbers could be more a product of an age advantage at that level than a sign of an ascending player.
The Giants will probably want to promote Gregorio to Triple-A first to see how he handles that competition first, before relying on him to get Major League hitters out. They’ll also probably remain patient with some of their other pitching prospects, particularly Beede, in hopes that at least one of them emerges in the next month or so and proves ready to join the big club’s rotation.
Otherwise, the Giants will have to consider fixing the other rotation spot through trade, preferably long before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.