Tim Lincecum picked up his first win of the season as the San Francisco Giants went on to win 5-3 in Wednesday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This win meant they won the first series against the Dodgers 2-1. Beating the Dodgers is always nice, but what was even nicer was seeing Lincecum earn a win.
Every Giants fan knows the immense struggles that Lincecum had last season when he posted a 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA, the lowest ERA of all qualifying starting pitchers in the National League. Lincecum’s pitching performance on Wednesday wasn’t perfect, but the most important thing was that he got the win. Hopefully this win will give Lincecum some confidence going into his next start.
Giants fans were already concerned after Lincecum’s struggles all last season, but Lincecum’s poor performances in Spring Training definitely did not help ease their worries going into this season.
Lincecum had a 10.57 ERA this spring, but he did battle a blister issue throughout the spring and tough weather conditions in one of his starts. Even though pitchers’ ERA’s in Spring Training mean absolutely nothing in the regular season, it was a little concerning that Lincecum’s issues last year seemed to be carrying over to spring. Despite reports of Lincecum being in better shape in the spring than last season, his fastball velocity still seemed to decrease pretty quickly, so his outings were cut short and his command, mostly of his fastball, was severely troubling.
In Wednesday’s win, Lincecum’s fastball velocity started out strong at 92-93 MPH in the first inning. Then in the fourth and fifth innings, his fastball velocity decreased to 88-90 MPH. Lincecum barely got through five innings last night because his pitch count was starting to get high, which suggests that his fitness level maybe isn’t as good as initially reported.
Throughout the whole game, Lincecum’s command was pretty shaky. In the first inning, Carl Crawford singled off of him to lead off the game. Lincecum then walked Skip Schumaker, and, after he got Matt Kemp to fly out, he walked Adrian Gonzalez. After a passed ball by Hector Sanchez, Crawford scored. Lincecum then got Andre Ethier to pop out and Luis Cruz to strike out to escape the mess, but he didn’t look like he was in much control of the fastball, which wasn’t a good sign, especially at the beginning of the game.
In the second inning, Lincecum then allowed a double, a walk, and a single, but, again, he was still able to escape the mess. The third and fourth inning went much more smoothly, but in the fifth inning, Lincecum allowed a couple more walks. After a mound visit from manager Bruce Bochy, Lincecum re-focused and was able to pitch his way out of trouble, once again.
“Great effort,” Bochy said. “He was a little off at times but he competed so well and made pitches when he had to. He got in jams and had to work around them.”
Overall, in his first outing, Lincecum threw five innings, walked seven (which matched a career-high), allowed two runs (both unearned though), struck out four, and allowed only three hits. Lincecum certainly didn’t look like his old self, but his ability to get out of tricky situations was the most admirable aspect of his pitching yesterday. He didn’t panic, he remained calm, and he did what he had to do to get the win. He believed in his pitching and didn’t quit.
“I was thinking a little too much out there,” said Lincecum. “Next time, it’s about taking that out of the equation and just trusting my stuff… I felt like I could’ve pitched a lot better. Obviously, the walks will tell you. It’s just throwing strikes, really.” This is the type of performance that he can build on, and, hopefully gain confidence from.
Since Lincecum only lasted five innings, Bochy had to utilize his bullpen more than he probably wanted to. Jose Mijares, George Kontos, Javier Lopez, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Romo all pitched in relief, and they only gave up one earned run (credited to Jose Mijares) between them. Romo earned his first save of the season.
Even if Lincecum’s confidence grows with each start, his tendency to drive up the pitch count quickly suggests that Bochy will continue to have to use the bullpen a lot in most of Lincecum’s starts. However, the addition of Chad Gaudin, who will be used mostly as a long reliever (or spot starter, if necessary), could help prevent Bochy from having to overwork the most important arms in the bullpen like Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Lopez, and Romo.
After the game, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti pulled Lincecum aside and told him, “I don’t know how many games in six years you didn’t get wins when maybe you should’ve. So you take this one. Don’t feel bad about it. Take the win.”
Any professional athlete, especially one who is in or coming out of a slump, must have a short-term memory when it comes to their games, because they can’t let one start or one game affect how they approach the next. Lincecum’s struggles last season were partly mental, so if he can take Righetti’s advice and be satisfied that he got the win last night, he can move on to preparing for his next start and focus on getting his second win.