San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum: take him or leave him?

It was hard to imagine Tim Lincecum having yet another poor start in Seattle and keeping his starting job, but here we are. It seems more insulting to give up two home runs in the first inning to the Mariners of all teams, since they’re essentially the Padres of the American League. But the Mariners have 17 more homers this year than the Giants (24 more than the Padres). Still, two home runs allowed in one inning was a sign that Saturday night might have been the time when Lincecum finally hit bottom.

Hitting bottom would conceivably mean a new role for Lincecum, or no role at all for a specified period of time (unless you consider allowing reporters to ask “How’s Timmy doing?” during every Bruce Bochy pregame interview session to be a “role”). Instead, Bochy pulled Lincecum after five-plus on Saturday evening, and after that game sat down and had an good ol’ fashioned heart-to-heart with the Tim-meister.

There are two competing schools of thought here.

1. Take him out of the rotation

2. Leave him in the rotation

Here are some things that the “takes” are saying:

— They can’t just keep throwing him out there every five days to lose.

— The Giants’ winning percentage is .660 when Lincecum doesn’t pitch.

— Maybe he can go to the pen.

— Maybe he can work on his mechanics with his dad, or in the minors or Scottsdale.

— It’s not like he’d be out of the rotation forever.

Here are some things that the “leaves” are saying:

— A healthy portion of his stat line (K/9, FIP, xFIP) looks surprisingly decent for a guy with an ERA of 6.19 in mid-June.

— As he showed in Seattle, Lincecum doesn’t always start all that well. That doesn’t translate all that well to the bullpen.

— What other options do the Giants have in terms of guys who can take Lincecum’s turn in the rotation? When you look at the 40-man, there aren’t many.

— Two Cy Youngs, postseason heroics … he’s Tim Lincecum.

— If things continue this way or get worse, they can always take him out of the rotation later.

Right now, the “leaves” are getting what they want. However, it’s uncomfortable for everyone. Poor command, fastballs that are too slow, changeups that are too fast, a body that’s too skinny, too much weighing on his mind, pitches he could be tipping, a lack of concentration and/or confidence in the stretch — the sheer number of things that could be wrong is staggering.

Hoping things will work out — and cringing when they don’t — was exhausting when it was Barry Zito. The fact that it’s San Francisco’s little superhero, the guy who kept proving everyone wrong, makes it that much harder. The worst part? Hearing experts (and I’m not rolling my eyes while writing that, I mean real experts like Keith Law) with their belated “I told you so”s. Maybe his small stature and all those innings he’s thrown since he was a teenager have caught up with him. Hey, it was a nice career while it lasted but he isn’t 6′ 4″, 225. Even with all he’s accomplished, it’s almost as if the doomsday folks would be proven right if he gets pulled from the rotation. Is that a silly, prideful way to think? Perhaps, both for fans, Giants management and Lincecum himself.

So how much longer can the Giants keep letting Lincecum take his regular turn? At this point, it might be longer than many would prefer. With Madison Bumgarner (excellent outing today, once again), Matt Cain (remember that guy?) and Ryan Vogelsong (who made the Giants seem so dominant in the beginning of the Seattle series), the Giants have a little breathing room before they HAVE to make a move like bringing up Yusmeiro Petit (and moving him to the 40-man).

At this point Lincecum probably has two starts left to show he can figure things out on the fly. Even if he has another 5-IP-5-ER outing in Oakland, he’ll get one more shot in Game 3 of the Dodgers series at AT&T. If he fails in both, that might signal “bottom” to both Lincecum and the Giants.

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