Extra Baggs: Lincecum's name no longer strikes fear

Extra Baggs: Lincecum's name no longer strikes fear
June 11, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Tim Lincecum needed 102 pitches to get through just 4 2/3 innings Tuesday in Pittsburgh. (AP)

PITTSBURGH – The lines tell you when it’s a special night at the ballpark. They’re long at the turnstiles, short at the concession stands. 

That is what happens when a highly anticipated rookie makes his major league debut. And when it happens to a franchise that hasn’t seen a .500 season in 21 years, and is in the midst of a healthy renaissance, then you can bet nobody will miss a Gerrit Cole pitch to buy a pierogi.

Pittsburgh is baseball’s Florence right now (with more Warhol, maybe), and the patrons have a new prodigy whose art they can celebrate.

Cole was no-nonsense, which is exactly what he needed to be. He didn’t get intimidated or nibble at corners. I’m not sure if he knew the Giants had struck out the fewest times in the NL, but he went after them as if he knew getting them to chase would just be a waste of bullets.

When you throw 97 mph, and when you see hitters struggling to catch up to it, you keep pumping them.

“Power arm, just what we thought,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Cole walked off with a 5-1 lead and a standing ovation in the seventh inning. “We knew what a good arm he has and he showed it tonight. … And really, he had good command. He located pretty good.”

He only struck out two, but he didn’t go to a three-ball count until two outs in the sixth. And in the first four innings of his big league life, he threw strikes on 39 of 48 pitches.

It’s such a contrast to Tim Lincecum, who once stood in Cole’s place – the kid who came up with such a buzz, and then created even more when the faithful realized he was the genuine article.

But the "Electric Feel" doesn't accompany Lincecum starts anymore. There are no more exchanges of "Happy Lincecum Day!" among club employees. There is no eroding the frescoes he has painted in his career, and his place in franchise history is beloved and priceless and everlasting. But when he works now, his palette is muted and muddled.

Lincecum worked so many deep counts while throwing 102 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. He even had trouble putting away Cole, who was down 0-2 with the bases loaded in his first big league at-bat. Then Lincecum threw three pitches out of the strike zone to run it full. And then came a fastball that even a pitcher with zero at-bats could threaten to time.

Lincecum was hard on himself.

“I’ve got to take advantage of the fact it’s the pitcher and be aggressive,” he said. “I didn’t do what I wanted to do. … They weren’t even challenging pitches. You could tell. The takes he took, the way he took them, it was indicative of that.”

I sat next to Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com during the game and he asked me the biggest difference between Cy Young Timmy and the Lincecum of today who has four quality starts out of 13.

There’s velocity, of course. He doesn’t throw in the upper 90s anymore. Then again, he didn’t throw that hard in 2010, when he struck out 14 Atlanta Braves in a 1-0, NLDS victory in Game 1. (In many ways, that game ranks as the best I’ve ever seen – even better than Matt Cain’s perfect game.)

As I told Jon Paul, I think the biggest difference is that hitters don’t chase his pitches out of the strike zone like they used to.

When they swing, they miss at the same rate. In 2008, his first Cy Young season, 20 percent of his strikes were swinging. He had the exact same percentage of swing throughs last year, when his 5.18 ERA was the worst among all NL starters, 20 percent.

But in 2009, his last Cy Young season, batters chased 49.4 percent of his changeups out of the strike zone and 45.7 percent of his sliders out of the zone. Last year, those percentages dropped to 39.0 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively.

And, of course, those pitches are a lot more effective to generate swings when you’re throwing them 0-2 instead of trying to work backwards from 2-0.

Bengie Molina once told me, back when Lincecum was struggling in the beginning of 2010, that the right-hander was getting hitters out “with his name.” There would come a time when those hitters would figure out that Lincecum didn’t have the same stuff, and if they were patient and waited for mistakes, he’d feed them one.

“When that happens, that’s when he’ll have to adjust,” I recall Bengie telling me.

After a year and a half, Lincecum is still trying to make that adjustment. It’s so much easier when you throw 98. But those days are not coming back.

Lincecum said he thought of his own major league debut, against the Phillies in 2007, when he found out he’d be pitching against Cole. A local reporter asked a follow-up question: Did he often think of that game?

Lincecum’s reply dripped with melancholy.

“No,” he said. "It gets further and further from your mind. It just comes back when a guy like (Cole) comes up.”

--

Juan Perez. Tony Abreu. Brett Pill. Guillermo Quiroz. Nick Noonan.

For defending World Series champions, the Giants sure have a lot of Grizzled non-veterans on their roster.

They very well could add another, if Marco Scutaro’s hand specialist delivers bad news after Wednesday’s examination.

Roger Kieschnick? Kensuke Tanaka? Joe Panik???

(It won’t be Francisco Peguero, who was hit on the helmet by a pitch Monday and is on the disabled list with a mild concussion.)

Another pitcher in Sandy Rosario? Hector Sanchez? We’ll find out soon enough.

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The Giants had gone 90 innings (over 11 games) without an opponent scoring an unearned run against them. That is rather impressive, especially since they allowed 10 unearned runs in six games on that road trip to Toronto and Colorado in May.

Hunter Pence’s error in the fifth inning Tuesday led to a pair of unearned runs against Tim Lincecum and ended the streak.

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Here’s another reversal of a negative trend for you: Lincecum didn’t allow a home run. The Giants’ starting pitchers have allowed just two home runs over their last 11 games.

Prior to that, Giants starters had allowed 43 homers in 52 games – the most by a starting staff in the major leagues.

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Triple-A Fresno right-hander Shane Loux has really embraced Twitter, so he took to the medium to break some rather unfortunate news.

Spread over a series of three tweets, he wrote:

“I guess it's time to tell everyone that my elbow decided to quit on me and I'm headed to SF for "Tommy John" first thing in the morning. I dont know what my future holds but I know who holds my future so ill be fine. Its a major thing the second time around but I can do it.”

Loux, 33, was 1-0 with a 4.97 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Giants last year – the first time he’d pitched in the majors since 2009 with the Angels. He was 5-2 with a 4.09 ERA in nine starts for Fresno and Giants officials nearly chose him to start in place of Ryan Vogelsong on May 28 at Oakland. Mike Kickham made his big league debut, instead.

Loux had pitched the previous day and threw a 107-pitch complete game in an 8-1 victory at Colorado Springs, but he hadn’t appeared since then.

He’s become a fan favorite through his funny and heartfelt interactions with fans.

After making his announcement, Loux’s next tweet was to respond to a fan asking permission to send him a T-shirt to autograph. The one-word reply: “absofreakinglutely.”

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Outfielder and former top prospect Gary Brown definitely interrupted a dismal season when he went 6 for 8 over two games Sunday and Monday. He added a home run Tuesday.

Brown started hitting right about this time last year at Double-A Richmond. Let’s see if he can sustain his success.

--

Time for Barry Zito to make an effective road start.

His splits couldn’t be more extreme: 4-1, 1.94 ERA in eight home assignments, 0-3, 10.19 ERA in four road outings.

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