Giants’ Cain faces challenge for starting rotation spot

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, May 27, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

 

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Matt Cain is facing a competition for the fifth spot in the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation.

“Good,” the 32-year-old right-hander said Monday when pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. “Let’s go with it. It’s good competition. Let’s all compete for it, that’s fine with me. I know those guys are geared up for it and I’m up for the challenge.”

The three-time All-Star has a $20 million salary in the final guaranteed season of a $127.5 million, six-year contract. He’s dealt with injuries for parts of the past three seasons that required elbow surgery; a bad back and hamstring problem last year led to Cain finishing the season in the bullpen as the Giants earned a wild-card spot and lost to the Chicago Cubs in a four-game Division Series.

Cain was 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA in 17 starts and four relief appearances last season.

“Everything’s still there. It’s just not having the huge waves that I had last year,” Cain said. “I had some really good moments, I had some really terrible moments. In years previous, I was able to calm those down. Even if I had a bad outing it wasn’t a big deal, and then the next time was able to go out and put up a consistent start or competitive start.”

The Giants want to give Cain every chance to win the job, given Cain’s long tenure with the club and the team’s preference for veterans. But left-hander Ty Blach leads a pack of contenders for the fifth slot behind Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore.

“Obviously our hope is Cain is our fifth starter. We’ll let that play out. We’re going to have an evaluation of everybody,” general manager Bobby Evans said.

Manager Bruce Bochy said there will be some tough decisions, indicating Cain will have to earn the role even after 101 wins with the Giants.

Cain said he feels fine after a relaxing offseason of family time and vacation. The bullpen is always a possibility, he said, but “that’s not where I plan on being.”

He wondered last year whether location issues were a mental or physical issue. He has been throwing since December.

“The biggest thing is to have a normal spring training for me,” Cain said. “I haven’t had one for the past couple of years. Last year was getting a cyst taken out and the year before was finishing up rehab and still really wondering what my arm was going to give me.”

Cain said he continues to have fun playing and isn’t trying to get distracted with thoughts of being closer to the end of his career.

“If you can keep doing that, then you get to make that decision on your own,” he said.

Bumgarner said Cain knows what he needs to do to get ready. The two have been friends since Cain approached Bumgarner at his first spring training in 2009.

“It’s not like he’s trying to feel his way through,” Bumgarner said. “Hopefully he’ll be back and he’ll pitch for quite a few more years.”

Notes: Cueto’s arrival at spring training will be delayed a few days as he remains in the Dominican Republic due to his father’s health issues. … Many top position players are already in camp, including Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Eduardo Nunez, Joe Panik and Hunter Pence.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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