Hello, Madison Bumgarner is hurt and Matt Cain probably isn't going to make the Opening Day roster. This has been your Giants spring training update, and you can hide under a blanket if you would like. You will have to get your own blanket because this one is mine.
Of course, these injuries aren't serious. Cain's is a cyst, which doesn't sound fun or long-lasting. And Bumgarner is dealing with a combination foot problem and rib injury, both of which he would pitch through if it were the regular season. Reserve your spring freakouts for Hunter Pence getting hit with baseballs and such.
But the injuries, minor as they appear, bring up a point that's often overlooked, especially around here: We're going to see an awful lot of Chris Heston this season. He just might be the most important Giants player to watch in the Cactus League this year, because while it makes sense to hope for good innings and consistent health from Matt Cain, we're a long, long way from expecting it. We spent the offseason assuming Heston would be the new Yusmeiro Petit. It turns out that he might be, well, this year's Chris Heston.
And that doesn't have to be a bad thing! We're all familiar with Heston's story last year, when he used a darting sinker and major league defense to exceed expectations and become a successful rookie, then fizzled in the second half. The velocity of his sinker followed a nice, recognizable progression (via FanGraphs):
The story now is that he's in the sturdiest shape of his life, as his goal is to eat everything in sight, sliding full pans of lasagna into his gullet like Garfield so he avoids the post-All-Star emaciation from last year. I'd like to think Pablo Sandoval is following this story and wondering about the organization's horrible double standards. No, I would love to think that.
There's a dark little secret about Heston filling in for Cain to start the season: Heston just might be the better pitcher already, at least according to the projection systems. ZiPS projects him for 150 innings that are worth a win above replacement. Steamer is just as optimistic, albeit in fewer innings because of his expected relief role. Both systems are more skeptical of the 31-year-old pitcher who's missed more than 15 starts in each of the last two seasons. You can understand that, even if you can still close your eyes and visualize what it's like for Matt Cain to be better than most pitchers.
Heston is passing the eyeball test this spring, at least, looking beefier and throwing harder. While I don't want this to devolve into "Here's why Heston's dominance of Yangervis Solarte means he's ready for 2016," there's no question that he looked effective on Sunday. Which is good, considering that he's almost certainly going to be in the rotation this year. At least for the beginning of the season.
Yeah. The beginning. I have a sinking feeling that between Cain's various ailments, Jake Peavy's age and history, and just plain ol' rotten baseball luck, we're going to see an awful lot of Chris Heston this year. It's a sinking feeling, alright. And that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
See, because "sinking feeling" is a pun, and, you know what, I don't have to answer to you. But after spending an offseason assuming Heston was going to be a forgotten man in the wasteland of the bullpen, it turns out that he's almost certainly going to be an important part of the 2016 season after all. Probably should have seen that coming.