Tim Lincecum struck out the side in the first inning with a walk mixed in. In the second inning, after Daric Barton ran the count to 3-1, Lincecum struck him out on an 84 mph changeup that brought to mind the 2010 postseason. Lincecum looked as good as he has all year until Jemile Weeks hit a triple with 2 outs in the third, but Lincecum made Weeks’ hit and sprint irrelevant as he got Cliff Pennington to ground out to second.
Then that nightmarish 4th inning happened. The 2-0 lead became a 4-2 deficit. Lincecum didn’t allow much in the way of solid contact, but he did allow five straight baserunners and threw a wild pitch that led to a collision with Colin Cowgill at home plate that Lincecum got the worst of. The good news: Lincecum stayed in the game and finished the inning after walking Weeks. The bad news: Lincecum was unable to pitch 6 innings for the sixth time in nine starts. The bad news: speaking of the number “6,” Lincecum’s ERA is 6.04.
Oh yeah, the Oakland A’s also won this game, 6-2.
Something’s wrong with Lincecum, but what exactly is going on? Since four more days go by until his next start in Miami (luckily for Lincecum the stadium there has a retractable roof now), let’s get a head start on talk radio and explore all the possible causes for Lincecum’s early season troubles. Keeping in the spirit of today’s game, let’s go with six:
1. He’s hurt
Besides that shot to the chin he took from Cowgill, Lincecum looks fine. His velocity’s down, but he’s also thrown a lot of innings over the past eight years (he pitched over 340 innings in college). His decision to veer away from the slider because it was too taxing on his arm this spring was a warning sign, but he went back to the slider during the regular season.
2. His mechanics are off
That would explain the velocity and the poor command. It would also explain why Lincecum can pitch three outstanding innings like he did today and then fall apart. But why are his mechanics flawless one inning and awful the next?
3. No confidence
Without a swing-through fastball, Lincecum’s belief in himself seems to be waning. Lincecum often nibbles or tries to get hitters to chase breaking pitches in the dirt, and since the fastball isn’t elite anymore his strategy is leading to about the same number of strikeouts as before (yay) … along with plenty of walks and base hits (boo).
“Sometimes it’s easier to keep it simple, stupid. Go out there and play like an idiot. I think that’s where I was back in my earlier days where I was kind of arrogant. I’ve got to get that back a little bit,” Lincecum said.
4. A lack of focus
Unfortunately, Lincecum will get knocked for this throughout his career whenever the results aren’t there — a marijuana possession charge will do that to a guy. “I don’t know if he’s losing a little concentration in the stretch,” Bruce Bochy said. “I think it’s more mental, maybe a little lack of concentration, drifting mentally out there, maybe he could answer that better.”
5. Bad luck
If you’re an amateur sabermetrician, there are some glimmers of hope. Lincecum is still striking out over a batter an inning, he’s been particularly unlucky on balls put in play (his BABIP against coming into this game was .346, and rose today). I asked Lincecum, whose HR/9 is as low as it’s been his entire career, if he feels like he’s experiencing an inordinate amount of bad fortune lately.
6. Less weight = less stamina
This one’s in the “crackpot theory” category, but it’s an idea that may pick up steam. Most people thought nothing of Lincecum’s announcement that his weight dropped from 196 pounds at the end of the 2011 season to 175 on Media Day in early February. He says he was 160 pounds in 2010 and everyone kind of sees him as a skinny superhero. So hey, maybe less weight on his joints will help his flexibility, free up his mechanics and lead to a return to Cy Young form. Not quite.
Today Lincecum was unable to pitch 6 innings for the sixth time in nine starts, something he failed to accomplish only seven times in 2011 (33 starts). Not sure what to do with this idea, or if it even has any merit whatsoever. Hey Timmy, you’re on a 5 double-doubles per day regimen until you can throw 8 innings against a team other than the Padres! And those fries better be animal style!
I still believe in Lincecum, but I’m losing faith that we’ll see a full recovery this year. We’re already a quarter of the way through the season and it seems like he’s farther away from a return to dominance than he was a month ago. Of course, Lincecum’s 4th inning was hardly the only problem the Giants had today.
— I missed the Padres series, where the Giants broke out and hit 3 home runs. In the 19 Giants games I have attended, the Giants have hit 3 homers. When Josh Reddick hit a 2-run home run to straightaway center in the 7th inning I tweeted, “It isn’t the park, guys.” The closest the Giants came to a HR today was on an opposite field fly ball hit by Gregor freaking Blanco, who happens to be the guy who hit the Giants’ last homer here.
— I wrote earlier how Bochy said Aubrey Huff would get at least one start at first base on this upcoming road trip. The Giants face Randy Wolf (a left-hander) tomorrow in Milwaukee, so that means Brett Pill will get the start unless he doesn’t get through airport security or something. Huff will probably start on Tuesday against Shaun Marcum. In other words, Belt might not get another start at first for a long time, and Huff has a great shot to steal the job by the time the Giants are back here on Memorial Day.
— Belt didn’t help his cause by striking out looking twice, three times overall. The Giants struck out looking eight times on the day, including Angel Pagan and Belt taking back-to-back called third strikes with the bases loaded. I asked Bochy if it was more frustrating to fail in that situation in that particularly way than it would’ve been otherwise.
“Sure it is. we’ve talked about this a couple times. We’re striking out too much with runners in scoring position, we’ve got to put the ball in play,” said Bochy. “My theory: hey, you go down, go down swinging. Battle up there. These are Major League pitchers, they’re probably going to hit their spots, but you’ve got to find a way to fight it off and put it in play.”
— Lincecum made up a new term: “constructive walk.”
— Lincecum said he “medium hyperextended” the thumb on his catching hand on the collision with Cowgill, but downplayed the injury. “Just rattled me a little bit, just the collision, but nothing bad,” he said.
— “It’s not working right now. I’m not saying that it won’t work, but it’s just, there’s a time and place for everything and I’ll find a way out of this.”
On the A’s
— I know this space isn’t exactly giving you premium A’s coverage. I apologize, it’s just that I’ve covered more Giants home games in person than all of the beat writers and I’ve fallen into a routine after the last out: check out the Bochy press conference, head to the clubhouse and to check out what the starting pitcher has to say, pick up whatever quotes I can afterward, then spend an hour or two uploading videos and writing up a recap.
— The A’s looked mighty good today after a pretty poor first couple of games, and they have to feel great about breaking an 11-game losing streak at AT&T. Bartolo Colon was excellent, much like he was early this season (except when he had to run to first on that bunt, when I expected a hubcap to somehow fly off his body and roll into the dugout as he hit first base). Reddick has more power than anyone in the Giants’ organization. Jemile Weeks hit 2 triples in the series, and watching that guy run is awesome. Hopefully Yoenis Cespedes will be in the lineup the next time I see the A’s.