NASHVILLE -- The Giants have asked Tim Lincecum to put some more meat on his bones this winter -- preferably not by eating out of a paper cheeseburger sack.
"The focus is on good weight," said Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, who spoke by phone with Lincecum last week. "If he can gain five or six pounds of good weight this winter and come into spring, that would be what we're looking for."
Lincecum struggled to a 5.18 ERA last season -- the highest among all NL starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title -- before becoming a secret weapon as a highly effective long reliever in the postseason. He either ran into trouble in the first inning, when he struggled to repeat his mechanics, or in the later innings, as his pitch count began to climb.
The latter was more of a stamina issue as Lincecum pitched nearly 20 pounds lighter than the previous season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he didn't like the way his knees and ankles felt in 2011, even though he had a 2.74 ERA and struck out 220. He had gained weight by gorging on In-N-Out double-double burgers.
The Giants don't want Lincecum to grease-bomb his way back to his 2011 weight. But they'd like him to begin the year with some reserves in his tank.
"He felt good (in 2012) and it wasn't like he was in bad shape," Groeschner said. "This is a strong kid we're talking about. Could he be in better shape? Certainly. We'd like to see his legs a little stronger, work on core strength. We just don't want him to start on a deficit."
Lincecum is entering his final year before he'd be eligible for free agency. He'll be a member of the starting rotation, manager Bruce Bochy reiterated to me on Monday. And as you might expect, Lincecum is motivated to have a turnaround season.
Groeschner was encouraged after hanging up the phone.
"Timmy just seems more eager to get going this winter and do it," Groeschner said. "He's ready to go for it. I was pleased with that as a starting point. Now it's up to him to put that into play.
"We just don't want him to fluctuate. We want him to find a happy medium."
Lincecum and all other pitchers were under orders to "stay cool" through Dec. 1. Now they are just beginning to crank up their fitness and throwing programs. But Groeschner said he plans to curtail their activity this spring, whether it takes the form of fewer bullpens, shorter exhibition starts or even delaying their participation in Cactus League games for the first week. (The Giants' Feb. 23 exhibition opener is their earliest in history, which is partly due to the World Baseball Classic.)
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Groeschner said he would get with Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti to map out a plan to limit pitches after the Giants won their second World Series in three seasons.
Pablo Sandoval confirmed what he told us in October: He's definitely participating for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Sandoval is in Venezuela now and will play for Magallanes in the winter league. It's a different offseason than the previous two years, when he did less baseball work and more strength training along with weight loss.
He'll be watched by Jose Alguacil, the Giants' well-regarded roving minor league infield instructor, who is coaching for Magallanes. Giants hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens is managing the Margarita club and checking in frequently with Sandoval as well.
Two years ago, the Giants put the fear of God (or Fresno) in Sandoval when they demanded that he lose weight. It's a little harder to do that with a reigning World Series MVP. Ultimately, club officials know it's up to Sandoval to come into camp in acceptable condition, and no amount of monitoring can change that.
Sergio Romo is expected to play for Mexico in the WBC, and several other members of the organization are likely to participate. But the toughest call will be Buster Posey, who has gone on record saying he'd like to suit up for Team USA.
Bochy recently checked in with Posey about that decision; the Giants wouldn't actively try to dissuade him, but it's clear they would have greater peace of mind if he skipped the tournament -- especially after he spent 10 months of ankle rehab, played far more games than they expected in 2012 and pushed himself through three rounds of the playoffs.
Groeschner has received praise throughout baseball, and deservedly so, for the plan he and his staff devised to get Posey back on the field after those two ankle surgeries left him unable to walk for more than three months.
The Giants prefer to pace Posey the same way this spring, since you can't argue with the results -- a batting title and an NL MVP Award. But the WBC would throw everyone a big curveball. So stay tuned.
George Kontos had successful laser eye surgery, and he wasn't the only one. Jeremy Affeldt had the procedure done shortly after signing his three-year contract last month, too. And no, thank heavens, it was not self-administered.
Maybe now Affeldt will be able to see those hamburger patties more clearly when he tries to separate them.