SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The poker face has been there through tough defeats and a perfect game, 90-loss seasons and championship runs. Matt Cain is always unflappable, and he had no reaction but a shrug of the shoulders when peppered about a shocking start to his 2013 season.
"I don't even remember the first half," Cain said flatly. "I'm trying to get rid of it. You remember what went on, but you try to just kind of blank it out."
The statistics tell a story Cain would like to tear from the books. He had a 5.06 ERA in 19 first-half starts -- including his first opening-day selection -- and failed to make it out of the third inning in his final two starts before the All-Star break. As much as Cain wants to blank out the results, he can't forget what they did to the Giants. As the rotation crumbled, so did the hopes for a repeat.
"We didn't carry the load that we needed to last year," Cain said. "We know that if we get off to a good start, that's going to help (the lineup). We knew we needed to step it up, and we didn't do a good job with that."
As the Giants arrived in Scottsdale with four-fifths of their 2013 rotation back in place, Cain stressed the importance of "getting it started in the spring and (pushing) that on."
He did his part Wednesday, giving up just a harmless double in three innings of a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Through 17 Cactus League innings, the starters have given up just one run, nine hits and one walk.
"We all kind of know what we need to do," Cain said.
It took far too long for Cain to start his own personal push a year ago. By the time he reclaimed his role as an ace, the Giants were buried, able to do nothing but watch the Los Angeles Dodgers cruise into the postseason.
As Cain, normally a picture of consistency, struggled through his worst half since his rookie season, Giants coaches struggled to find an explanation for his slow start. The long offseason led to plenty of introspection, but the Giants, at least publicly, still have not found an easy explanation for Cain getting shelled before the break and posting a 2.36 ERA after it. The strong second half got Cain's ERA down to an even 4.00, still his highest since 2006.
"It was just a little more consistency with his command," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was more susceptible to the long ball early. It just seemed like he started getting the ball where he wanted to and had better results."
The numbers don't bring any additional clarity. Cain actually held opponents to a lower average before the break than after it, and his strikeout rate (8.3 to 6.8) dipped noticeably as he started pitching better. Opponents had a higher slugging percentage in the first half (.402) than the second (.368), but the difference wasn't drastic.
Entering his 10th season, Cain knows that sometimes there doesn't need to be an easy explanation or fix. The game can be fluky. He prefers to dwell on the positives, and while his final numbers were disappointing, Cain ended on a high note and proved that his health wasn't an issue, something that was in doubt when he was pulled with a high first-inning pitch count in his final start of the first half.
Cain said he didn't go back and examine his rough start, preferring to move ahead and simply focus on starting faster this time around.
"I feel like the second half of the season kind of turned the page," he said. "Let's go ahead and start with a clean slate."
A look at Giants starter Matt Cain's 2013 numbers before and after the All-Star break:
W L ERA
Pre All-Star 5 6 5.06
Post All-Star 3 4 2.36
Totals 8 10 4.00