Notes: Cain shines in spring debut

Notes: Cain shines in spring debut

MESA, Ariz. -- The Giants restored order Sunday, at least at the outset of their 8-6 exhibition victory over the Chicago Cubs.

And, as is typically the case, the starting pitcher made the difference -- in this case, Matt Cain.

One day after the Giants endured a horrific 23-5 loss to Oakland, Cain set them on the right course by allowing two hits in three shutout innings in his first Cactus League game. The right-hander concluded his effort by whipping a fastball past Kosuke Fukudome for a called third strike with two runners on base.

"Ugh," Cain said when reminded about Saturday. "It's nice to see the guys didn't carry it over into today."

Cain had a good feeling about the afternoon before the game began. Striding onto the field with the rest of the Giants through a gate near the right-field corner, Cain felt his competitive flame rising as he realized that he was about to resume playing baseball.

"It was back to what it was. You forget that feeling," said Cain, who made his first career appearance at HoHoKam Park. "It felt cool to walk into the stadium and [think], 'Hey, I'm playing today,' not 'Oh, I'm going to practice again.'"

Cain threw 25 strikes in 39 pitches despite experiencing less-than-optimal conditions.

"Today was super-windy," he said. "I don't know if [Cubs starter Ted] Lilly was having a little bit of the same thing. The balls were really slick. But that comes with Arizona."

Denker impresses: The eventual winning runs were produced by Travis Denker, who clobbered a two-run, seventh-inning homer off Shingo Takatsu.

In three games, Denker's bating .444 (4-for-9) with an .889 slugging percentage, tops among players in Major League camp. Another of the infielders handling multiple positions, Denker, who plays second and third, was acquired last Aug. 26 from the Dodgers in the Mark Sweeney trade.

Denker, 22, has never played above Class A, but his bat looks more advanced.

"He flat-out hits," Cain said. "So far, I've seen him always get hits or hit the ball hard."

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Holding on: The Giants survived two serious Cubs rallies before prevailing.

Trailing 8-5, Chicago loaded the bases in the eighth inning against right-hander Scott Williamson, who escaped after allowing just one run. Williamson trapped Felix Pie on an attempted steal of second base, which turned the inning in the Giants' favor.

The Cubs loaded the bases again with two outs in the ninth against right-hander Julio Mateo, borrowed from Minor League camp. Mateo coaxed pinch-hitter Jake Fox's popup to end matters.

New headgear: Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery is slowly adjusting to the new rule which mandates that base coaches must wear protective helmets -- old-fashioned batting helmets, without earflaps.

"It's something I probably wouldn't have done on my own," Flannery said. "Last year I wore a little shell inside my hat anyway. It's something you have to get used to. Maybe my helmet's just not very comfortable ... [but] I'll play by the rules. You do what you have to do. I don't have a problem with that."

The rule was instituted during the offseason following last summer's tragic death of Minor League coach Mike Coolbaugh, who died of a burst blood vessel after being struck below the ear by a line drive.

Up next: Noah Lowry will have a chance to improve upon his Cactus League-opening start (three runs in 1 1/3 innings) when he faces Texas on Monday at Scottsdale. Fellow left-hander A.J. Smith will start for the Rangers.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.