San Francisco Giant Matt Cain begins rehab with start at Richmond

Matt_CainThree-time All-Star Matt Cain had never done a rehab assignment before starting for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels Tuesday night.

Cain, 30, had started 30 or more games eight straight seasons before seeing his 2014 campaign cut short with elbow issues that eventually required surgery. He was on track to return for the start of the 2015 season before going back on the DL with tightness in his forearm.

His final line against the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, was not anything to write home about – three and two-thirds innings, two runs, three hits, two strikeouts, one walk, on 55 pitches, 36 of them for strikes.

The important thing wasn’t that Richmond went on to win, which it did, 4-3, for the Flying Squirrels’ sixth straight triumph.

It was that Cain felt good getting back out there against live hitters.

“I’m still kind of working the kinks out, but it’s feeling good,” Cain told reporters mid-game. “It’s good to get the pitch count up, get the competitive adrenaline going again. It’s nice to be back out there and working toward where I need to be, and that’s a big plus for me.”

Cain already looked to be in decline after a strong 16-5, 2.79 ERA season in 2012, that he followed up with an 8-10, 4.00 ERA campaign in 2013 before slipping to 2-7, 4.18 in 15 starts in 2014.

His rehab start Tuesday was his first in the minors since he was called up to San Francisco in 2005. Cain remembered being on the other side of the MLB guy coming down to do rehab work and the impact it had on him as a 19-year-old in High-A in San Jose.

Jason Schmidt, in the midst of an 18-7, 3.20 ERA season in San Francisco in 2004, had one rehab start in San Jose, the game before Cain’s first start at the High-A level, and Cain thinks back to the experience as being “eye-opening.”

“He just stuck to fastball-changeup, and man, he made it look so easy,” Cain said. “Being a 19-year-old kid, you’re just like, golly. You just hope to be able to do that one day. It was great to be able to see that firsthand, and see what going out there and throwing a lot of strikes can do for you. That was definitely helpful for me.”

Cain said he didn’t make it a point to try to say too much to his Richmond teammates about what they might need to do as they try to work their way up the ladder, preferring to sit back and observe.

He did make it a point to try to get to know the guys, assuming that the Squirrels he had the chance to meet over the past couple of days in Richmond will be helping the big club in the coming months and years.

His focus, clearly, was on building toward his eventual return to the bigs. He said “need(s) to get some more innings in, get the pitch count up,” and needs to get more comfortable with his breaking pitches, to the point where he feels confident that he can throw his off-speed pitches for strikes.

“That’s going to come with time. It’s my first time out facing another team. Getting adrenaline, getting out there and throwing a bunch of strikes, is really the biggest thing right now,” Cain said.

– Story by Chris Graham

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