Matt Cain: Bruce Bochy's First Pinch-Hitter off the Bench?
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In the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets game Friday night at Citi Field, Giants manager Bruce Bochy found himself in need of a pinch-hitter, for the first time that night, in the sixth inning. Who did he call to the plate to hit for Barry Zito? His $139.75 million pitcher, Matt Cain.
Why on earth would a manager do this? It was the top of the sixth, two outs, and nobody on base. The Giants led 3-2 at that point, and an extra-base hit followed by a single from the leadoff hitter would double their precarious lead.
Why bring out a pitcher to hit with the entire bench at your disposal? With the bases empty and two outs, he's not there to bunt. Was Bochy hoping for a home run? At any rate, Cain struck out.
Matt Cain is a capable hitter. He has five career home runs and 18 RBIs, including six last year. But he's also the owner of a career .115 batting average.
And he's only hit one home run since the 2008 season. And while he did have four homers in 2007-08, his combined record as a starter those years was 15-30.
The pinch-hit decision was perplexing to say the least. Matt Cain is the franchise (sorry, Tim Lincecum, your day in the sun is passing). He was just signed to an eight-year contract for a shade under $140 million. And you have him pinch-hitting?
I have three words for you (okay, two): Chien-Ming Wang. In June 2008, during an interleague game against the Houston Astros, the New York Yankee pitcher injured his foot while running the bases. It was diagnosed as a torn Lisfranc ligament. The extensive rehab prevented Wang from pitching again that year.
Wang had won 19 games with a sub-4.00 ERA for the Yankees each of the previous two seasons. He was 8-2 at the point the injury occurred. He went 1-6 in nine starts with a 9.64 ERA the year following the injury.
Wang did not pitch again in Major League Baseball until making 11 starts in 2011 with the Washington Nationals. For what it's worth, he went 4-3. He is not in Washington's rotation this season.
So having your $140 million man pinch-hitting in the sixth inning does not seem like the brightest idea, even if the pitcher is used to hitting and running the bases. Anything could happen.
He could get beaned in the hand or the head. He could fracture his arm or dislocate his shoulder on a throw up the line that pulls the first baseman off the bag and into the runner.
He could break his finger sliding into second. He could get creamed on a play at the plate. He could pull a hamstring because he hadn't stretched on his "day off." He could tear his Lisfranc ligament!
It wasn't the sixteenth inning, it was the sixth. If you have to pinch-hit with a pitcher (apparently the Giants bench was short-handed as Ryan Theriot didn't make the road trip with the team because he was "under the weather"), tell Ryan Vogelsong to grab a bat. The 34-year old had a lifetime .204 average.
Bochy emptied his bench and bullpen (except for Dan Otero) in the 10-inning game anyway, leaving only Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Vogelsong as potential pinch-hitters. Good thing for him the game didn't go even longer. He was thinking about playing Aubrey Huff at second base.
There was some bizarre bullpen management, too. Bochy lifted his new top-of-the-closer-committee reliever Santiago Casilla in the ninth after just two pitches. He had given up an infield single. Javier Lopez came in and proceeded to blow the lead, while avoiding the plate with half his pitches.
The Giants did win the game 4-3, as Melky Cabrera scored the winning run in the top of the 10th. Sergio Romo did his best to blow another save, but Clay Hensley nailed down the victory.
And Matt Cain did not suffer a season-ending injury in his pinch-hit cameo. But as the old saying goes: You play with fire, you're gonna get burned.
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