The All-Star break may have come at just the right time for Matt Cain, who wasn't able to find his form during a forgettable first half.
His efforts could prove crucial down the stretch if San Francisco hopes to catch the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cain tries to avoid a fourth consecutive loss as the Giants try to make up more ground on the visiting Diamondbacks on Saturday night.
Named to the All-Star team in three of the previous four seasons, Cain (5-6, 5.06 ERA) hasn't come close to pitching at that level thus far. The right-hander owns the highest home ERA in the major leagues at 5.94 and has surrendered 16 homers - six shy of his career high.
Cain went 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA in his final four starts before the break, and the last two were especially alarming. After yielding eight runs in 2 1-3 innings of a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 5, Cain failed to make it out of the first inning for the first time in his career in a 7-2 loss to the New York Mets last Wednesday.
"To go out there and have an outing like that is really disappointing," he said. " It's kind of hard to swallow, but you have to get over it."
Cain, who threw 36 pitches, surrendered three runs and walked three while recording two outs.
"I didn't want it to become a health issue," manager Bruce Bochy told MLB's official website, "He's fine. I had some concern there because he was a little off. I'll be honest. You want to win every game, but you don't want to risk someone to win a game. That's why I got him."
Despite his struggles, Cain insists he's healthy. He threw a bullpen session last Saturday without any complications.
"It gives you a sense of comfort with the fact that he felt really good," Bochy said.
Cain has gone 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in his last six starts versus Arizona (50-46). Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Chavez and Cody Ross are a combined 12 for 59 (.203) against him, while Miguel Montero is 10 for 51 with 15 strikeouts.
San Francisco (44-51) posted its sixth victory in seven games in the series Friday, 2-0. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey each drove in a run as the fourth-place Giants climbed to within 5 1/2 games of the Diamondbacks.
"It's huge," winning pitcher Chad Gaudin said. "Any win in our division is huge."
The Giants, 4-1 in their last five overall, have allowed two or fewer runs in each of those wins.
Arizona, in contrast, has hit .230 and been outscored 67-38 in dropping 11 of 14 on the road. Second baseman Aaron Hill, mired in a 2-for-21 funk, is hitless in his last 13 at-bats in this series.
"We had no offense going on at all," said manager Kirk Gibson, whose team was limited to five singles Friday. "They just shut us down."
The Diamondbacks will try to bounce back behind Wade Miley (6-7, 4.01), who has gone 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA in three starts this month. The left-hander allowed three runs in eight innings to beat Milwaukee 5-3 last Thursday.
Miley is 0-2 with a 4.08 ERA in three career starts versus San Francisco. Posey is 5 for 10 with a homer and two doubles in their matchups, and Andres Torres is 5 for 9 with two extra-base hits.