Giants' fifth starter battle is clash of opposites

The battle for the Giants’ last rotation spot is shaping up to be a classic of the genre: the veteran versus the rookie. Matt Cain and Ty Blach are the two pitchers vying to be the team’s fifth starter, and Monday saw both of them in action—with Blach taking over for Cain in the fourth inning and allowing an inherited runner to score. After the outing, manager Bruce Bochy noted that the rotation spot belongs to Cain if he’s healthy. But the past few years have shown that the if there is a rather important qualifier for the 32-year-old, who has spent much of the last three seasons on the disabled list and hasn’t passed the 90-inning mark in that time.

Blach, meanwhile, got his first taste of the big leagues last year and held his own in two starts and a smattering of relief appearances. But with rather underwhelming stuff—albeit with great command—he only has so much upside, and a future in the bullpen isn’t so hard to imagine. (Particularly in long relief, which isn’t really a role for which the team has anyone else especially well-suited right now.) For now, though, he’s battling with Cain.

Injured stars slowly on the mend …

This week has held several updates for key players trying to bounce back from injuries. There’s Michael Brantley, cautiously easing into play after a rollercoaster of a season in terms of health. (First on the disabled list with a shoulder injury; then rushed back too soon, and sidelined once again; then surgery to remove scar tissue, with a promise that he’d be on the field before the season was through; then season-ending shoulder surgery.) Now, he’s taking live batting practice. While things have been smooth for the outfielder so far, manager Terry Francona has stressed that nothing is guaranteed just yet.

Then there’s Max Scherzer, recovering from a stress fracture in his finger. But as of this week, it’s no longer keeping him sidelined; instead, it’s just become a reason to begin experimenting with a new three-fingered fastball grip. He threw his first live batting practice session yesterday. And there’s also Josh Donaldson, who injured his calf while running last month. While there’s no timetable yet for his spring training debut, he’s been taking ground balls and batting practice and his return is reportedly not too far off.

… and other guys going down

Scott Kazmir left Monday’s outing abruptly with tightness in his left hip, the same problem that nagged him for nearly all of last year. A Tuesday MRI exam came back negative in regard to any structural damage, but he was clearly frustrated with the issue and it’s not yet clear if he’ll be able to make his next scheduled start. Given how persistent his hip troubles were last year—and how many health troubles the Dodgers’ rotation had to deal with as a whole—it’s not a particularly encouraging sign.

Another pitcher sent in for tests this week is Trevor Rosenthal, scratched from a planned outing on Monday due to shoulder soreness. While it’s something different from the injury that kept him sidelined last year—that would be forearm trouble–he was sent for an MRI exam all the same. Thankfully for the Cardinals, it came back negative. Rosenthal should be able to resume throwing by the end of the week, which is important as the team continues to try stretching him from a traditional closer into a multi-inning reliever.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Have the Cardinals noticed Rosenthal's ever-worsening BB/9 rate?