When Cain arrived on the scene last September, and proceeded to dominate big league hitters with relative ease, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.33 ERA, a lot of Giants fans felt as though he was destined for immediate stardom. However through the first month of the season the young right-hander has struggled to a 1-3 start and some fans are already getting impatient and asking the question, "What is wrong with Matt Cain?" The answer to this question is simple; nothing!
Cain's electric debut last season produced an aura of excitement that hadn't been seen in these parts for nearly a decade. After years of seeing heralded pitching prospects come up through the farm system and either not live up to expectations or get traded away, Giant fans finally had a home grown prospect with a bright future who appeared to be on the cusp of greatness. Who could blame them for being excited?
With all the excitement surrounding Cain, there were heightened expectations placed on the young right-hander's shoulders heading into this season. Many fans believed that Cain would step into the rotation and win 14-15 games this season. Now after one bad month, those same fans are rushing to push the panic button calling Cain "another over hyped prospect," intimating that he is not ready and should be sent back to Fresno. To place such unrealistic expectations on the kid is ridiculous!
People tend to forget that Cain is only 21 years old and coming into this year, his first full season in the big leagues, he had only pitched a little over 50 innings at the major league level. It is extremely rare for pitchers to come in and dominate right away. Not even some of the greatest pitchers of all-time such as Sandy Koufax (11-11), Juan Marichal (13-10), and Bob Gibson (13-12) were able to win 15 games in their rookie campaign.
With Noah Lowry set to come off the disabled list next week and Brad Hennessey pitching well, there are rumblings that Cain will be demoted to the bullpen or sent to the minors. If the Giants brass decide on either one of these options they'll be making a huge mistake.
If management chooses to send Cain to the bullpen he would likely be used as a long reliever, and that would be the worst move they could possibly make. The problem for long-relievers is that they don't get the opportunity to pitch on a consistent basis and often times they only see action when games are well out of hand. Kevin Correia, the team's current long-relief man out of the pen, has appeared in six games and has only thrown a total of 13.2 innings since he was recalled to the majors three weeks ago. In order to continue to learn and develop as a major league pitcher, Cain needs to be able to throw on a consistent basis. The only way he is going to be able to do that is as a member of the starting rotation.
While Hennessey certainly has pitched well enough to earn a spot on this team, putting him in the rotation at the expense of Cain is not the answer. Yes, Hennessey has been outstanding so far this season, but he has had stretches in his career where he'll throw the ball well for three outings, and then get roughed up in his next two. So how do we know the same thing won't happen this year? All things being equal, the Giants would be better off leaving Cain in the rotation and moving Hennessey to the bullpen.
Optioning Cain to the minors is not a viable option either. In spring training, manager Felipe Alou made a commitment to go with the young hurler as the team's fourth starter. If they send him down after one month, what kind of message does that send to him, "If you have a few bad outings we are going to send you down?" Despite what his numbers suggest, Cain hasn't pitched that badly, at least not enough to warrant being yanked from the rotation. With the exception of one bad outing in Arizona, he has thrown the ball well for the most part, and kept his team in ballgames giving them a chance to win. The problem is, the Giants offense has only scored nine runs in his last five starts, and because most games that Cain has pitched in have been close, every mistake he makes gets magnified. When the offense isn't scoring many runs, it doesn't matter who is pitching, the team is not going to win many games.
Nobody will argue with the fact that Cain has had some rocky moments, but the Giants had to expect that when the season started. He has already shown the ability to be able to make adjustments. During his first few starts, Cain had trouble finding the strike zone consistently. As a result, he got himself in trouble by issuing more walks than he would have liked. However, in his last two starts Cain has done a better job of locating his pitches issuing only two walks in 13 innings pitched. Cain is just now learning how to pitch. It takes most young hurlers an average three to five years before they reach their full potential. As Cain gains more experience, he should continue to improve as a pitcher... if he is given the chance.
There is no question that the Giants have some problems to address as the season goes on, but Matt Cain is not one of them. He will be fine. This would be one time where Sabean would be best served not to listen to the "Lunatic Fringe," and leave Cain in the rotation, allowing him to continue to develop at the big-league level. However, based on the Giants recent handling of top pitching prospects, it's hard to have any faith that they will make the right decision this time around.
I am a life long Giants fan, who bleeds orange and black. I'm not afraid speak my mind and express my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with what I have to say, feel free to write me and let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
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