Cain growing into an ace with each trip to the mound

Updated: June 10, 2009

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Matt Cain is 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA this year after going 15-30 over the past two seasons.

San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain has had great ability for a while now, but his record hasn't always reflected it. Before this season, he was 15-30 over the previous two years despite not having an ERA higher than 3.76 either year. So far this season, after another win Tuesday, he is 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA.

Only 24 years old, he is still learning how to pitch at the big league level despite his years of experience. At 24 years old, I was in my first year at Triple-A. He didn't play much minor league, or any college, ball because of his tremendous natural ability. But he is learning, and that is starting to pay off.

He's a big, durable guy with a body type like a Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan or Andy Benes. He's got a real strong base and square delivery. He hides the ball well, but his mechanics are simple and there is nothing terribly deceptive about his delivery. He's not putting too much pressure on his arm or shoulder. That says to me that he is the kind of guy who will hold up for years to come. In fact, he was tied for first in the league with 34 starts last year. Eventually, over that many starts, the luck is going to even out. One of the biggest reasons for disappointing won-loss records in his career has been the lack of run support he has received. The Giants, especially since Barry Bonds' exit, are not an offensive powerhouse. But Cain's run support is up noticeably this season. And another factor for his improved results is he is starting to get a handle on his walks. That tells me he's learning to pitch more and more.

Matt Cain's run support
Season Games started Runs Runs per game
2005 7 23 3.29
2006 31 140 4.52
2007 32 101 3.16
2008 34 108 3.18
2009 12 65 5.42

He also has learned not to give up in games after struggling early, and his start Tuesday night at Arizona was a great example of that. He gave up four runs before the end of the third inning, but battled and pitched into the seventh, and his team scored some runs and got him the win. Cain is maturing as a pitcher. He's 8-1 right now, riding a career-high six-game win streak, and is a guy who definitely could win 20 games.

Look at his stuff. He's got a 92-97mph four-seamer, an 85 mph slider, a 78 mph curveball and a solid changeup that fades a little bit. None of that is particularly noteworthy, but what is noteworthy is that he really understands the value of his four-seam fastball and is one of the few pitchers in a long, long time who can pitch effectively up in the strike zone.

When talking about pitchers, we often talk about command and control and, in doing so, are usually talking about the ability to throw the ball low-and-away and up-and-in. Cain has a rare command of the upper part of the strike zone, both inside and outside. Most guys pitch down and only go up for effect. But he can actually pitch up and stay there. He's really good at moving the ball around up there. He'll throw a tasty fastball up that hitters usually either take for a strike or just miss because of his velocity. And then he is very good at subtlety, adjusting the width and height of that pitch to fool hitters. He has other weapons, too. His curveball is 12-6, and that complements his high fastball. His firm slider, at 85 mph, is very sharp.

But one of the biggest weapons every successful pitcher has to learn eventually is mental endurance. It's so important, keeping your focus and continuing to battle even after early trouble in a game or even in a season. Cain is starting to show that, and it could finally all be coming together for him this year. This season could be the one Giants fans have been waiting for. If he keeps improving, this should only just be the beginning.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: June 9 | June 8 | June 7 | June 4 | June 3

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
C. Rasmus, StL7FlaVolstadTop 1: 0-0, 1 Outs. 2 on.
J. Lopez, Sea7BalGuthrieTop 2: 0-1, 1 Outs. None on.
J. Bruce, Cin15WasMartisTop 2: 0-0, 1 Outs. 1 on.
J. Posada, NYY9BosWakefieldTop 2: 2-2, 0 Outs. None on.
J. Guillen, KC7ClePavanoTop 4: 1-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Yankees at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET

The series winds down with a pair of pitchers still new to this rivalry. CC Sabathia makes his first start against the Red Sox as a member of the Yankees. He comes in on a roll; Sabathia has not lost since May 2, going 4-0 in six starts. Brad Penny had his string of three consecutive winning decisions snapped in his most recent start, a 5-1 loss against Texas.

Phillies at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET

After an awful stretch for most of May, Jamie Moyer seems to have turned it around in his past two starts. He pitched six strong innings in a win against the Nationals and seven solid ones in a no-decision against the Dodgers. One of those bad outings in May? Yes, it came against the Mets, when he was rocked for seven hits and seven runs in 2 1/3 innings May 7.

Royals at Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Zack Greinke will get a chance to respond to his first truly bad outing of the season. Greinke was rocked by the Blue Jays on Friday, allowing nine hits, seven runs and two homers in five innings of work. The seven runs matched the total Greinke had given up over his first 10 starts.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
9:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Eduardo Perez, Eric Young
1:30 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Eduardo Perez, Eric Young

BBTN MINUTE: CC NEEDS TO EARN HIS CASH

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Chase Utley, who hit a pair of homers in the Phillies' 5-4, 11-inning win against the Mets. Seems Utley goes deep against the Mets pretty often:

Chase Utley
Percent of hits that are HRs
vs. Mets vs. others
2007 21.1 11.4
2008 35.7 17.1
2009 80.0 20.3

Over the past three seasons, Utley has 38 hits against the Mets, 13 of which have been homers. This season, four of his five hits have been long balls.

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
VerlanderJustin Verlander's roll continued. The Tigers right-hander tossed a complete-game six-hitter in a 2-1 win over the White Sox. He struck out nine and allowed a lone run. Verlander has won his past seven decisions after starting the year 0-2. He has given up one or no runs in seven of his past nine starts.
WORST
PavanoCarl Pavano had a brief -- and bad -- day. He went 4 2/3 innings against the Royals. It was enough time, though, for him to get smacked around for 11 hits and all nine runs in the 9-0 loss. The start boosted his ERA from 4.63 to 5.40. Pavano had been pitching well, entering the start with three consecutive wins.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Jackson Detroit Tigers righty Edwin Jackson is having a phenomenal season so far, posting a 6-3 record with a 2.16 ERA for the AL's second-best pitching staff in terms of ERA.

Jackson has cut his walk rate in half from two seasons ago, and his strikeout rate is higher than the American League average of 17.2 percent. These are all signs of a pitcher who finally is putting it together.

Jackson and the Tigers take on the White Sox on Thursday. Jackson is 1-2 with a 6.45 ERA in his career against the Sox.

Edwin Jackson (2007-2009)
2007 2008 2009
K pct. of PA 17.0 13.6 19.1
BB pct. of PA 11.7 9.7 5.9
Strike pct. 60.1 61.2 64.9
Miss pct. 21.0 17.5 23.0
ERA 5.76 4.42 2.16

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy AJ Mass examines the 15 games on Thursday's slate.

Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes