Going into this year, many Giants fans felt dejected seeing Matt Cain’s name in the rotation. In Cain’s four previous seasons he had a losing record, an ERA no better than 4, pitched over 90 innings in just one of those seasons, and set a new career low in WAR consecutively in each of the past four years. It seemed like persistent injuries to the 3-time All-Star had taken some velocity off of his pitches, his fastball in particular, and hampered his ability to pitch deep into games and be a workhorse pitcher for the Giants.
To reduce the risk of further injuries and decrease his dependency on throwing four-seam fastballs Cain did what many big-time pitchers are not willing to do. He reinvented himself.
Cain has adapted to his lose in velocity by significantly increasing the amount of two seam-fastballs that he throws. In 2016 just three percent of Cain’s pitches were two-seam fastballs (his least used pitch) compared to 47 percent for his four-seam fastballs (his most used pitch). So far this season his two-seam fastball usage has jumped up to 20 percent and his four-seam fastball usage has dropped to 37 percent.
Cain told The Audible Thursday that he had been thinking about using the two-seamer more since spring training, but he didn’t fully commit to it until backup catcher Nick Hundley suggested it during Cain’s second start.
“Hundley just came out and said every heater I call let’s throw a [two-seamer],” Cain said. “I was a little bit nervous with that cause you’re not exactly sure where it’s going but I tried to go with it and use the extra movement and maybe getting away with making some bad pitches. But having the ball move a lot has turned out good so far and I’m just going to try and keep using it.”
He still uses the four-seamer at least sixteen percent more than any other pitch but the increased use and success of his two-seamer and his off-speed pitches has allowed for Cain to reduce his dependency on his fastball. This has lead to a 3-1 record and a misleadingly high ERA of 4.04 (mainly due to 9 runs allowed in 3 innings to the Reds).
Against the Dodgers Monday, Cain was able to go for 6.2 innings with 112 pitches and just one earned run, which was his first outing of the season with more than 92 pitches. A performance like that against a good team is a positive sign that Cain’s new pitching strategy is working in his favor.
If he continues to find success with his two-seam fastball, Cain may be able to put together a bounce-back campaign and justify his 20-plus million a year price tag. At the very least Giants fans now no longer dread every start Cain makes.