Hopeful Cain inches forward on comeback trail 

click to enlarge Matt Cain hasn’t started a game for the Giants since July 9, but the veteran pitcher has remained positive through the rehabilitation process and began throwing this week. - BEN MARGOT/2014 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Ben Margot/2014 AP file photo
  • Matt Cain hasn’t started a game for the Giants since July 9, but the veteran pitcher has remained positive through the rehabilitation process and began throwing this week.

LOS ANGELES — Matt Cain's psyche did top-speed sprints from one end of the emotional gamut to the other, a whirlwind of psychological sensations brought about by the physical ones he experienced in his right arm over the previous nine months.

Yes, there was incredible disappointment. Of course, there was deep frustration. And absolutely, there was flat-out anger.

Then, Cain remembered he is a professional baseball player. As one, the Giants pitcher has regularly coped with some version of failure since he was a teenager in Germantown, Tenn. It's the nature of the job, sans his perfect game at AT&T Park in 2012.

So the despondent feelings caused by a strained flexor tendon more than three weeks ago slipped away, and Cain accepted his fate on the shelf for another extended period, one that started in July and led to elbow surgery to remove bone chips.

"I had a good bit of work done in the elbow, so from that standpoint of it, there were bound to be setbacks," Cain said before Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. "It was very frustrating because everything was going so smoothly and we had gotten so far into the rehab process. Then we come down to the last part of spring training and this pops up.

"It definitely was frustrating. It wasn't fun to think about. You're angry at first, and you're mad about the situation. You're thinking about all the work that we did in the offseason."

Once those thoughts dissipated, however, Cain came to a realization that eased his mind and brought peace within it.

"You have to get over that, and think maybe there is a purpose for this and maybe this is actually part of the rehab process," Cain said. "Maybe my arm just needed this extra time. That's when you get over the frustration."

Cain had throwing sessions Tuesday and Wednesday — 25 tosses each day from about 60 feet — but it is still too early in the process to set a timetable. Cain's arm dictates the progression.

"Each time he plays catch, we'll see how he comes out of it," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Considering the Giants went into Wednesday's finale against the Dodgers three games under .500 and in last place in the National League West and that their non-Heston starters have a 4.95 ERA after Ryan Vogelsong's disastrous three-inning, six-run, four-homer outing Wednesday, a healthy Cain could be a significant shot to the arms, so to speak.

Cain has been pitching with some sort of arm debilitation since about the time he was drafted 25th overall in 2002. Mostly, it's been a range-of-motion issue brought on by a couple decades of flinging a baseball at maximum effort from a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.

After his August elbow surgery, Cain was letting the ball go uninhibited. As he progressed through spring training and prepared to start the third game of the season, Cain was as confident as ever in his ability to dominate major-league hitters again. He was seeing the results of the elbow cleanup, literally seeing them in the way his ball dipped and ducked toward through the zone and in the way hitters reacted.

Sure, his Cactus League numbers weren't great, but spring training is about health more than numbers. It was the former that ended up snatching Cain back on Opening Day, when the flexor strain was diagnosed. Now Cain might not make another major league start until June, some 11 months since his last one.

"I started to really feel like I could throw the ball to both sides of the plate," Cain said. "I felt like my breaking pitches were moving a lot. I was getting that confidence back. That was why it was pretty frustrating. But on the other side, at least I could see it was there and how much the surgery had already helped."

Cain signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension just prior to the 2012 season. That season he went 16-5, put up a 2.79 ERA and was worth nearly four wins above replacement. Everything was ecstasy as the Giants won their second World Series in three years with their newly inked ace.

But the following two seasons claimed Cain's effectiveness and health, as he posted a 4.06 ERA over 45 starts in 2013 and 2014. More than $67.5 million remains on that extension, which goes through at least 2017. Cain has thrown 524 total innings on that deal.

When Cain pitches in his next major-league game, he and the team will know he's completely healthy. Both sides also know they need him to be pre-2013 effective in order for them to keep up in the National League West race.

"I know what I'm capable of," Cain said. "And I know that I wasn't adapting quickly enough [before]. That's what I was getting back to. I know it's there."

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Anthony Witrado

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