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Cain't Hardly Wait*

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For today's post, I thought about putting up a photoshopped image of Benitez in a Bukkake video, but then I decided to leave the prop comedy to those who do it best -- Carrot Top, Gallagher and Grant. Rather, I will stick to my own well-worn repertoire -- kitchy pop culture references, bawdy double entendres, and fart jokes. Actually, that's a lie -- there won't be any of those either. How about some good, old-fashioned baseball analysis instead?

Last night I wrote, "If Benitez saves another one-run lead in the 9th tonight, I'm stocking up on bottled water and canned foods, because the apocalypse in nigh."

Well, I guess we can all rest easy.

The Giants won last night, overcoming a blown save by Benitez, some hacktastic ABs by Shea Hillenbrand, and a shaky outing from Noah Lowry. Unbelievably, the winning rally included walks from both Hillenbrand and Feliz. And Mike Stanton closed it out to pick up his second save. So this is why Sabean made those trades.

Let's see, the Giants have won the first three from the Padres and now try for the four game sweep in an afternoon game. Where have I heard that scenario before? (Don't worry, Termell Sledge isn't even on the Padres roster anymore.)

The bullpen was worked hard last night, with only Kevin Correia not taking the mound, so it's up to Cain to provide some innings. That could be a problem. Pitch count has been a major issue for Cain, who has been very up and down in this, his first full season in the bigs. But any seasoned baseball fan knows the inconsistency involved in the development of even the best starting pitchers. I'm old enough to remember the days when Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling were maddeningly inconsistent young pitchers. And it's often the same issues -- great stuff, not enough control and too many homeruns. For Cain, it has been no different.

Sure, we all hoped the little we saw of Cain at the end of 2005 was indicative not only of what he could do in the future, but also of what he could do right now. This year has been a reminder the almost inherent struggles a young pitcher faces during his learning curve, but not a not a very harsh one. Cain has been hard to hit (.231 BAA, 7.78 h/9), not easy to make contact against (8.27 k/9), and has even improved the HR rate (1.03 hr/9) over the course of the season (9 HR in first 55 IP, 6 HR in last 75 IP). But the control problems remain (4.34 bb/9, making his k/bb only 1.91). Not only do the walks lead to runs, but those same control issues pump up his pitch count, which causes him to exit games earlier than he normally would, putting undue responsibilty and pressure on the bullpen. Less and less frequently have we seen games like his last start vs. the Dodgers, where he struggled not only with his control, but also with allowing hits and the long ball. What is still a large issue, however, have been the starts where he has no problems with allowing hits, or even many runs, but where his control issues cause undue stress on both his arm and the bullpen. Take this line from 7/16 vs. the Phillies for example:

6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 105 pitches.

It's hard to complain about one run in six innings, but when a pitcher dominates like he did on pitches in the strike zone, it's frustrating that he threw so many out of it. Because he could only go six innings, he came out with a one run lead and had to hope the bullpen could hold it for three innings. They couldn't, and the Giants lost. The ace starters around the league -- and I think we all believe that's what Cain's ceiling is -- go at least seven or eight innings when they're on their game, and rarely come out after six with just a one run lead. That's probably because they rarely take 105 pitches to get through six innings of one-hit ball.

Of course, it's nothing to get too worked up about when a guy is only 21, throws like Cain does, and has as high a level of maturity as he reputedly posesses. It's just a part of the maturation process. As my main man Fredrich Nietzcshe once said, "That which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." (Pretty sage wisdom from a guy who died of syphillus -- I guess that didn't make him stronger, huh?) The problem is, we've seen this story before. A lot. And they have rarely had a happy ending in these parts. These are the same types of things I once said about Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz, and William VanLandingham among others. But Cain has better stuff than any of those guys ever did. And, it appears, a better psyche. That's what so many underachieving Giants pitching prospects share in my opinion -- a lack of mental fortitude. Whether it's been a lack of confidence, weak work ethic, or just plain softness, many of the best young pitchers the Giants have produced seemed to come up small when things got tough. Even as a kid, I wasn't surprised when I learned on The Bob Brenly Show after a game that Scott Garrelts and Atlee Hammaker were best friends, because they both shared that almost-too-nice-to-be-as-good-as-their-stuff-is aura. The same goes for best buds, VanLandingham and Estes. I guess soft loves soft.

Luckily, Cain seems to buck that trend. He seems to want to be great, and expect it too. And not all walks are created equally. Cain seems to ligitimately not be able to get the ball over from time to time -- due to mechanics, overthrowing, excitability, etc. I prefer this to some other pitchers, who seem to walk too many out of a fear of making a mistake out over the plate. I won't mention any of those pitchers, but think big, fat, and overpaid (hint: Armando Benitez). Cain is so young, he's got plenty of time to solve his command issues, so there is hope. A lot of hope. But that service time clock is ticking and for a fan base which has been marinating in a rich, tangy pessimism glaze for some years now, I think there will be some doubts until we see Cain put it all together for an extended stretch.

* And you thought when Grant left he took all those bad Cain-related puns with him. Think again!