SAN DIEGO -- Matt Cain believes he can avoid the finish he experienced last year, when he morphed from outstanding to ordinary in the season's final weeks. From mid-August to mid-September, Cain might have been the Majors' best pitcher in 2006. He allowed only one earned run and 19 hits in 42 innings (that's an 0.21 ERA) while posting a 5-0 record in a six-start stretch. Cain then lost his final three starts, yielding 13 runs and 25 hits in 18 innings (6.50 ERA). The contrast left an impression on Cain, who starts Saturday against the San Diego Padres.
"I've thought back on those games," he said Friday. Cain recalled feeling subpar against Colorado, the first game of his season-ending downturn, but insisted that he returned to normal, at least physically, in his final two games at Milwaukee and against Los Angeles. "I made some mistakes in those games and that cost me big-time," he said. Cain is again approaching mid-month on an upswing, although not as spectacularly as last year. He's 4-2 in his last nine starts with a 3.26 ERA that includes his 2 2/3-inning, six-run disaster Sept. 3 at Colorado. Intent on reaching 200 innings, Cain's at 181 with probably three starts left. He reached 190 2/3 last year after totaling 192 at Triple-A Fresno and with the Giants in 2005. "The way my arm and body feel, I'm not really that tired," said Cain, who said that he has preserved his energy by limiting his effort during his between-starts bullpen sessions -- in both the amount and intensity of his throwing. In his only remark reflecting an admission of fatigue, Cain said that last year's experience taught him to go easy on himself when he could: "I probably came out pretty amped up the first month-and-a-half or so of last year. I was throwing harder than normal, and that might have gotten me a little bit at the end." Cain is often cited by sabermetricians as being one of the most "abused" pitchers in the Majors. But he believes that manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti are vigilant about preventing him from working too hard after those long, 30- or 40-pitch innings that tax a pitcher's arm. "That's where sometimes they have to know that this is a better time to take [a pitcher] out," Cain said. "We're going to want to stay in the game and be competitive. There's not many times we're going to say, 'That's all I've got.'" Support for Pats: So the New England Patriots stole signs against the New York Jets last Sunday. In Bochy's view, so what? This happens all the time in baseball, which is why Bochy was stunned by the $500,000 fine levied against Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the $250,000 fine slapped on the club and the loss of a pick or two in the 2008 NFL draft. "I thought it was steep," Bochy said of the penalty. "I didn't think [the Patriots' transgression] was that big a deal. In all sports, it's always been part of the game. Any time you steal signs, it's an advantage for your club; I don't look at it as an integrity thing as much as, you're trying to win any way you can. I'm sure it's been done many times; it just so happened they got caught. "I can tell you that in baseball, they have cameras on third-base coaches that aren't supposed to be on. That's been reported over the years -- or has been known." Short hops: Left-hander Jack Taschner threw off a bullpen mound for the first time since straining his throwing shoulder Sept. 3 and believes that he'll be fit to pitch by Sunday, as previously expected. Taschner, who has made 56 appearances, hopes to get enough action during the season's final weeks to reach 60. "That's a good number to get to," said Taschner, who amassed 69 outings between Triple-A (45) and the Giants (24) last season after reaching 68 in 2005 (44 Fresno, 24 San Francisco). ... Right-hander Kevin Pucetas of Class A Augusta won the Minor Leagues' Most Spectacular Pitcher Award with a 1.83 ERA. The honor goes annually to the qualifying pitcher with the lowest regular-season ERA in a full-season league. Pucetas, the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year, finished 15-4 with 104 strikeouts and 21 walks in 145 1/3 innings for Augusta. ... Third baseman Pedro Feliz, 1-for-12 lifetime against Padres starter Chris Young, received a rest Friday. Coming up: The Giants and Padres continue their series Saturday night beginning at 7:05 PT. Cain will oppose former Giant Brett Tomko.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.