Cain cruises, bullpen collapses as Padres pound Giants

Matt Cain allowed one run over five innings. It was an outing that kept with a stunning trend, one that has the Giants’ fifth starter sitting at a team-best 2.30 ERA — 1.17 over his last four starts.

Kelby Tomlinson pinch-hit for him in the fifth, scored the run that put the Giants (9-16) up by two, and looked to have secured Cain’s third win — a mark matched only by Johnny CuetoChris Stratton, who hadn’t pitched since April 22 in Colorado, would take it home, he thought:

“I was hoping to run it out with him, but he couldn’t settle in.”

Instead, the Padres (10-16) batted around, knocking Stratton and Neil Ramirez to their butts with a stone-cold eight-run sixth inning and three-run seventh. The Giants blew yet another lead — and a chance at winning back-to-back games since April 9th and 10th — losing 12-4 to San Diego Saturday night.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Stratton and Ramirez had the tall task of plugging a gap needed rest guys like Mark Melancon and Steven Okert in near certainty that Cain — who had battled off a hamstring injury — would need some extra relief, said Bochy:

“It’s tough when two guys who you need for length struggle.”

And did they struggle. Stratton (BS, L, 0-1, 13.50 ERA) gave up four hits and a walk. Five runs were earned on his watch when Neil Ramirez couldn’t stop the bleeding. He walked two, let all his inherited runners score, and Wil Myers topped the sundae with a 422-foot three-run bomb to give the Padres a 9-3 lead through six.

Allen Cordoba had the cherry, adding another three-run bomb off Ramirez in the seventh inning. The fans booed, and the Giants suffered a slow and painful death from there.

The sixth and seventh innings made Cain’s outing feel like a distant memory, a fever dream that occurred in some season past. But let’s not forget what we saw: Cain’s curveball whiffed five batters, and his fastball two more.

It’s a far stretch from the Cain in recent years. He’s changing speeds and making quality strikes, Bochy noted. Cain noted that Nick Hundley told him to throw his two-seamer more, he’s feeling confident.

Cain’s on a roll coming off a cloudy 2016 and spring, and knows it:

“I just wanted to keep putting stretches together and that’s what I want to keep doing.”

The Padres got six hits off of Cain (ND, 5 IP, 6 hits, 1 run, 7 K), but could only score one in the fourth on an Erick Aybar RBI single with runners on the corners, snapping Cain’s 11-inning scoreless streak spanning back to his start in Kansas City.

Joe Panik caught Austin Hedges at home on a risky attempted double steal to preserve a Padres’ 1-0 lead. The game was still within reach, despite the lineup’s past shortcomings.

More often than not, the Giants have failed to get The Big Hit — a clutch knock with RISP that Bruce Bochy and his team have longed for in the early stretch.

Conor Gillaspie beat the shift to kick off the fifth with a double to left before Eduardo Nunez wasted no time sending him home with a dribbler up the middle to tie the game 1-1. Tomlinson moved the line and found a gap in left field for a single, then Panik walked to load the bases for Brandon Belt.

Given The Big Hit’s elusiveness, Belt’s tie-breaking, two-run single up the middle felt like a game-icer. The Giants had a 3-1 lead, the safest lead in all of sports.

Cain lasted five innings and tossed 86 pitches. Tomlinson’s pinch hit in Cain’s spot was crucial to that Big Hit, and Bochy knew he only had one more inning out of Cain, anyway. Cain took that upon himself as a note for improvement:

“I think I can do better with getting guys to make contact early, get deeper in the game.”

This one, certainly, was not on Cain.

Up next

Ty Blach (0-1, 4.22 ERA) faces Clayton Richard (2-3, 4.45 ERA) as the Giants will finish off this home stand in hopes of taking the series.

Notes

Brandon Crawford was taken off the bereavement list and placed on the 10-day DL with a groin strain. Bochy said Crawford’s injury was nothing serious, but having a shorter DL time — shortened even more by the bereavement leave — made it easier for the team to give Crawford more time to heal up.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.