SAN FRANCISCO -- As baseball pundits, commentators and beat writers begin forecasting their predictions of which teams will make it to the playoffs, they're also beginning to prep their ballots for postseason awards races. As they start to chatter away on television screens and in newspaper columns across America, there is one race that some fans, players -- and even some writers -- believe espouses a player whose name is barely mentioned. That man is 21-year-old San Francisco starter Matt Cain. And he, in many people's eyes, should be high on the ballot for the National League's Rookie of the Year award.
Since a July 21 start against San Diego, the right-hander has gone 6-3, and has watched his ERA drop from 4.67 to 3.94, after Friday night's seven-inning, one-hit outing. While those numbers may not wow the average fan, consider this. In his four starts prior to Friday night's win, Cain's ERA was a stodgy 0.33. Also, the game marked the fifth time this season that the rookie has limited teams to no more than one hit. The right-hander, who has only allowed one run in his last four starts, said he hasn't given much thought to the significance of his numbers, outside the fact that they are helping his team win right now. "It's nothing I can control," Cain said of a possible Rookie of the Year nod. "That stuff doesn't matter. It's just coming out here and winning. That's the biggest thing." While he may not be too interested in the race, Cain admitted that he may not be receiving the attention he may need to be an upper-echelon Rookie of the Year candidate because of a rough 1-5 start to the season, when he also suffered through a 7.04 ERA. Manager Felipe Alou didn't outright say Cain deserved to be in the running for the award, but notes that the work his pitcher has done recently is invaluable to the Giants, and award or not, Cain has already proven himself. Alou, who has hinted that Washington's Ryan Zimmerman heads his Rookie of the Year list, said Cain has become a respected pitcher already, mainly because of his nasty mid-90s velocity, which has pushed him toward 156 strikeouts so far this season. "He can overpower guys with fastballs right down the middle," Alou said. "He's deceiving -- they only see it when it's right up on them." Lowry's on the mend: Noah Lowry, the starter who missed his last outing due to a tender throwing elbow, may get back on the mound soon, Alou said before Saturday's game. The left-hander threw a rigorous bullpen session prior to the matinee with the Padres, and according to the manager, he looked good enough to pitch in his next start on Wednesday. Alou said he was not going to make an official announcement about Lowry's condition until after Saturday's game, or sometime Sunday. "We're going to wait until after the game, possibly tomorrow, to see if there's any after effects," Alou said. "We don't believe there are, but he threw 80 pitches -- he had a great workout." In the event he can't pitch against Colorado on Wednesday, Lowry's replacement will be right-hander Brad Hennessey, who has not had a win since his outing against San Diego on Aug. 14. "[Hennessey's] in the bullpen today, but if anything happens, he could pitch the game on Wednesday, too," Alou said. "It's good to have a guy like that that's willing to do whatever you ask him to." Another Cain? This time last season, Cain was called up by the Giants, and showed them flashes of the success he's gone on to have this season. But another pitcher is making some noise down on the farm this season, and may provide San Francisco with a pleasant shake-up to its rotation next spring. Tim Lincecum, the Giants first-round draft pick in the 2006 First-Year Player's Draft, started his professional career with San Francisco's short-season team at Salem-Kaizer, only to quickly move on to Class A San Jose. The right-hander only pitched four innings total at Salem-Kaizer, but in his time there, he struck out 10 batters. But he didn't stop there. Since joining San Jose, Lincecum has made six starts, allowing opposing batters to a measly .135 average against him. He also has 48 strikeouts there, and he isn't done. San Jose continues its season Saturday, when it hosts the California League North Division finals. Lincecum's pitching coach at San Jose, Jim Bennett, has said the 22-year-old may be one of the best pitchers he's ever seen. Vizquel honored: Prior to Saturday's game, Omar Vizquel was honored during a pregame ceremony by the Giants for being the team's recipient of the 2006 Roberto Clemente Award. The annual award recognizes the players who best exemplify baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their teams. Coming up: The Giants wind down a three-game set with the Padres on Sunday, when right-hander Matt Morris (10-12, 4.54 ERA) squares off against Woody Williams (7-5, 3.91). The action starts at 5:05 p.m. PT on ESPN.
Coley Harvey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.