Cain in camp still young but wiser
Giants phenom keeping it simple, staying competitive
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Reviving a high school custom, Matt Cain has switched jersey numbers from 43 to 18, which formerly was worn by outfielder Moises Alou.That's merely a cosmetic change. In 2006, his first full Major League season, Cain reclaimed a more essential teenage trait -- his attitude -- which has accelerated his already precocious development. Cain's progress has fueled the Giants' belief that their starting rotation could be their chief asset. It's even permissible to speculate that Cain, not $126 million left-hander Barry Zito, might emerge as San Francisco's ace as the season unfolds. This is largely because Cain, 22, has proven that he can enhance his skills with a veteran's approach. "It's always interesting to see a guy who has pitched a full year come back that next year," Giants right-hander Matt Morris said Thursday after the opening workout for pitchers and catchers. "A young guy like him, he'll soak up so much and then when the offseason hits, a lot of it really makes more sense. I'm interested to see how dangerous he's going to be. The sky's the limit." The sky appeared to be falling for Cain after he began last season 1-5 with a 7.04 ERA in his first seven starts. What happened next has been well-documented: Cain skipped a start, threw two perfect innings in relief May 16 at Houston to reacclimate himself to pitching, then fired a one-hit shutout at Oakland on May 21. Those outings propelled Cain to a 12-7 record and a 3.34 ERA in his final 24 appearances. "It kick-started a new time for me," the right-hander said. Correcting a mechanical flaw at this juncture helped Cain improve. But a mental adjustment might have been more crucial. "I actually started playing the game again and had fun with it," Cain said. "I kind of got back to being comfortable in the atmosphere I was in and calmed down." Among the teammates helping Cain was Morris, who imparted a basic message: Keep it simple. "Pitching can get so technical and you can think about every movement you make, but usually the best thing for guys like us who've done it all our lives is to forget about it all and let muscle memory take over," Morris said. "The more you think, you're slower and you get in trouble."
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Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.