It was bone spurs removed from Matt Cain’s elbow last August, but the effect, the Giants right-hander said, was more like lifting years of wear off his pitching arm.
“I feel like I’m 18 again,” Cain, 30, said Friday.
Specifically, Cain said he now has nearly the same range of motion in his right arm as he did when he signed with the Giants as a teenager – something he hadn’t experienced in recent seasons because of the bone chips.
After not picking up a baseball for several months following the August surgery, Cain is back to throwing five days a week and threw 30 pitches off a mound Friday. That followed a 25-pitch session Tuesday in which Cain said he threw at “60 to 70 percent effort,” focusing on repetition of his mechanics rather than velocity.
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Last season, Cain said: “I definitely think I wasn’t able to consistently repeat the same delivery that I wanted to over and over, and I think that was getting a little frustrating.” Still, he said it took a while to acknowledge there might be an underlying physical cause.
“I thought it was normal, having the innings that we’d logged in, just having to change as a pitcher,” Cain said. “But now, going through the surgery and my arm feeling as good as it does now, I know that some of it wasn’t probably always right where it needed to be.”
Cain figures to be slightly behind the Giants’ healthy starters when spring training begins in two weeks, and manager Bruce Bochy said he will monitor Cain closely in Arizona. But Bochy added he has received “nothing but great news about Matt” from trainer Dave Groeschner – who said he had to remind Cain to pace himself when the right-hander began to throw again in December – and the plan remains to have Cain ready by Opening Day.
The challenge for Cain, then, will be turning back the clock – not quite to his teen years, but to two seasons ago, when he was an All-Star and ace of the Giants’ staff. When the Giants won the World Series in 2012, Cain was 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. Since then, he is 10-17 with a 4.09 ERA, and last season he made just 15 starts, going 2-7 with a 4.18 ERA before having season-ending surgery.
“I’ve underperformed the last year and a half,” Cain said. “And that’s something I don’t want to do again. I almost see it as a new beginning. For me, I feel really good right now. I feel as good as I did when I almost first signed with these guys. I’m excited about the season and looking forward to it.”
A return to form by Cain appears all the more important given other uncertainties in the Giants’ rotation. Tim Hudson said Friday he feels “really good” five weeks removed from ankle surgery, but Hudson will be behind schedule in spring training and is hoping to be fully recovered by Opening Day. The Giants have made it clear Tim Lincecum will go into spring as a starter but also that they will form what they feel is the best rotation out of six candidates including Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong.
“Any starting staff you build, you want to get innings,” general manager Brian Sabean said. “We hope all of our choices, whoever the five starters are … can give us the most innings possible, and then we feel good about our bullpen to finish off games.
“Whether it’s Matt or anybody else, that’s their first job, is just to do the work.”
The Giants were unable to add another frontline starter this winter, falling short in pursuit of Jon Lester. Cain said it’s partly his responsibility to make that a non-issue and said he has texted center fielder Angel Pagan – returning from back surgery – about dispelling notions the Giants had a disappointing offseason.
Having both players back, Cain said, “I feel like that’s almost two pickups, in a way. We go out and play healthy and do what we’re supposed to do, I think we’ll be successful.”
Et cetera – Hudson, who turns 40 in July, said he is “pretty confident” that 2015 will be his final major-league season. “I’m definitely leaning that way, for sure,” he said.
Hudson is coming off surgery in January to remove bone chips from his right ankle. It’s the same ankle he had season-ending surgery on in 2013. He was still recovering from that injury last spring, and said the ankle bothered him throughout the season and likely contributed to other ailments, including a hip problem, late in the year.
Hudson said he just started throwing and hasn’t had further issues with the hip. “Hopefully that won’t creep back into the equation, and my ankle will be 100 percent.”
▪ Pagan is among the players who will not be at today’s FanFest event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at AT&T Park. But Bochy said, “Angel’s doing great. He’s assured me he’s healthy, he’s good to go, he’s excited about how his back’s feeling. So I look forward to seeing him this spring.”
▪ Minor-league catcher Geno Escalante, 25, who is on the Class-A San Jose roster, has been suspened 50 games following his second positive test for a drug of abuse. Escalante, a 15th-round draft pick two years ago, hit .174 last season in 122 plate appearances for Salem-Keizer of the Northwest League and Augusta of the South Atlantic League, both Class-A teams.
When: Today, 10 a.m. to 3p.m.
Where: AT&T Park
Admission: Free; parking is $10
Events: Player autograph sessions, mystery grab bags, Q&A sessions, memorabilia, clubhouse tours