Don’t let the 6.29 ERA fool you. Matt Cain is right where the Giants need him to be. And while it’s a lot of pressure to pile on a 22-year-old, they need him to be great.
If you were looking only at numbers, you’d think Cain struggled here in the desert. But Cactus League numbers can be very deceiving, particularly for starting pitchers. They almost never post impressive overall stats at spring training because they use their first three or four outings to experiment, or to work on shoring up specific weaknesses and at no point do they game plan for the opponent the way they do during the regular season.
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If you were looking at Cain out on the mound, however, you’d have seen frequent dominance. And you can go ahead and get used to it. The big kid from Memphis is going to be a star very soon — perhaps in time to suit up for the National League in the All-Star Game this summer at AT&T Park.
What makes Cain special is not the howitzer of a right arm attached to his prototypical power pitcher’s frame (6-foot-3, 235 pounds). Pro baseball is full of big, strong guys who can throw a ball through a wall. What separates Cain from most of them is the same kind of mean streak you’ve seen in guys such as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.
If you’re on the other team, Cain absolutely hates you.
The game has softened over the years, to the point that you can’t go to a game without seeing a whole mess of opposing players hugging and laughing behind the cage during batting practice. Such scenes sicken Cain.
“I don’t want to even meet guys on other teams,” he says. “What happens if I end up liking the guy? That’s no good. I can’t use that.”
Pretty old-school for a 22-year-old, right? Then again, with a 3.23 ERA in the final 10 starts of his rookie campaign, Cain proved late last season that he’s well beyond his years.
Even his new nickname has an old school slant to it. Some of the Giants have taken to calling him “Frasher” — pronounced Frazier — because, like an old man who finds something that works and sticks with it, Cain fell in love with Frasher’s Steakhouse and Lounge early this spring and essentially made it his second home.
“I kinda like it,” he says of the moniker.
And you’ll like what you see from Frasher this year. Barry Zito will probably get more headlines, but Cain will get more wins.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The OaklandA’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.