Lincecum chooses a different weapon to defeat Dodgers

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Lincecum chooses a different weapon to defeat Dodgers

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES There was a time when Tim Lincecum could mowthrough any lineup using just two blades.

His fastball and his changeup. Both thrown with the sameblurry arm speed.

The changeup was not fair. It faded. It disappeared. It wasperfectly disguised as another roaring, rabbit fastball out of the hand. Thenit would tumble like a puff of dying exhaust underneath so many hopeful bats.

The changeup was the pitch that won Lincecum two Cy Youngs,that helped to deliver the Giants a World Series title, that promised to keep him inthe game many years longer than the projections of all those amateur scouts wholooked at his scrawny body and draped their reports with red flags.

But Lincecum has not been himself this season. He took themound Tuesday night with a 5.45 ERA, and no more room for baby steps or moral victories. First place was at stake. And in manyrespects, this was his most important regular-season start as a Giant. Whilenot yet in the backstretch, this pennant race is about to kick into a swifterpace. Lincecum had to prove to himself, to his coaches and teammates, that hecould keep up as he once did.

When warriors go into battle, they favor their truest blade.For Lincecum, youd pick his changeup, right?

He did not.

He threw three of them, maybe four.

Outs are just outs, said Lincecum, who won enough battlesover 5 23 innings of a heartening 4-1 victory at Dodger Stadium. Itdoesnt matter whether you use your changeup, slider or fastball or whatever.

You talk to your catcher and get feedback. If a certainpitch is working, you dont have to go to the others except maybe to flash it.The fastball was good and the slider was good, so thats what we went with.

The slider did not feel good in the spring, youll recall.Lincecum vowed not to throw it, for a few reasons. The pitch tended toexacerbate a blister issue on the tip of his middle finger. But mostly, he foundthat throwing the slider made it more difficult to find and keep a consistentrelease point with his fastball.

Miidway through his second start of the season, Lincecumrealized he needed his slider. The plan changed.

It continues to evolve.

In front of a hostile, sellout crowd, Lincecum threw 47fastballs, 25 sliders, and although Pitch FX had him at 10 changeups, Lincecumestimated he threw less than half that many.

Essentially, he was a fastball-slider pitcher.

Its a pitch I can throw across the plate that breaks awayfrom right-handers and in on lefties, he said of his slider. Its a pitchIve been looking for, really, to open up the plate to both sides.

Thats what makes this game fun and exciting, he continued.Its a chess game every day. One year, you might go fastball-changeup. Thenext year you might find fastball-slider is what works.

The trouble Ive had is knowing what to improve or what tochange instead of putting emphasis on the right things and relying on what gotme here.

That means relying on what works on a given night, too. On this 75-degree night at Chavez Ravine, during those crisis moments when Lincecum has failed to make a pitch so many times thisseason, he knew he could put stock in the slider. He threw one to Matt Kempwith a 3-1 count in the fourth inning. Swing and a miss. Then Lincecum followedwith another that resulted in a double-play grounder.

When the Dodgers placed hits to load the bases in the sixth,Lincecum faced Kemp again. He threw a fastball for a called strike. And then

I wasnt going to compound the problem, he said. I wasjust trying to get one out. I didnt care if it was a sacrifice fly. I couldtell from the first slider I threw him in the game that if I put it in the rightspot, just off the black, it could just be a pop fly.

Lincecum threw it off the black. Kemp did better than pop itup, but his drive to right field held no danger of reaching the pavilion. HunterPence gloved it for a sacrifice fly. It was the only run Lincecum allowed.

It should be noted that Lincecums fastball had more life,too. He said he didnt change his workout routine between starts or make anymechanical tweaks from the last outing -- a messy, 96-pitch night againstWashington in which he completed just four innings.

Perhaps he was a bit fresher with an extra day, or a littlemore amped because of the opponent. For whatever reason, his average velocitywas 92.4 mph and he topped out at almost 94.

But he didnt try to blow away hitters with gas. He used itto set up the slider. He did exactly what manager Bruce Bochy hoped he would do: Keep making pitches, and never let up.

Thats a good sign for us, for him, Bochy said. I thoughthe did a really good job of pitching. He mixed it up well and used both sides.

Lincecum spoke of trying to erase his first-half failures.In the next breath, he acknowledged he cannot undo the past.

But in a pennantrace, there is no rear view.

Its all about that finishing kick, and no matter what weapon hechooses, the Giants are counting on Lincecum to be sharp.

I cant change what happened, he said. I can only makebetter pitches now.

Report: Giants 'among teams that have asked' about lefty reliever Howell

Report: Giants 'among teams that have asked' about lefty reliever Howell

The Giants added a huge piece to their bullpen Monday by signing closer Mark Melancon to a four-year deal. While much of the bullpen is complete, San Francisco's front office is reportedly keeping an open mind with a familiar reliever. 

San Francisco has reportedly asked about lefty reliever J.P. Howell, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. Howell, who turns 34 in April, spent the last four seasons as a Giants rival with the Dodgers.

Last season coming out of the Dodgers' bullpen, Howell tossed 50.2 innings pitched and ended with a 1-1 record and 4.09 ERA. The year before, Howell posted a career-low 1.43 ERA. 

In just 13 appearances out of the bullpen -- 10.2 innings pitched -- Howell has struggled in his career at AT&T Park. The lefty has a 6.75 ERA in San Francisco, to go along with an 0-1 record. 

As a whole, the Giants' bullpen finished the 2016 regular season with a 25-24 record. The group's 3.65 ERA ranked ninth in the National League. 

Howell is seeking a one-year deal, according to Olney. 

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Giants never tried to hide their offseason plan. From a downcast season-ending press conference, to the General Managers Meetings, to the first days of December, team officials insisted that the focus was on adding a big name to the ninth inning. 

In the opening hours of baseball’s annual winter meetings, the Giants found their guy.

Mark Melancon, a three-time All-Star and one of the premier relievers in the game, signed a four-year, $62 million deal. The ninth inning is set. The Giants believe the bullpen is set, too. 

“The core of the bullpen was in place. We felt that closer was the one area we didn’t want to have any doubts about,” general manager Bobby Evans said Monday. “It gives all of the club peace of mind and confidence. As many close games as we play, we have a lockdown guy in the ninth.”

Few have had a firmer grip on the ninth in recent years than Melancon. In his three full seasons as a closer, he has led Major League Baseball with 131 saves. He has a 2.60 ERA in eight seasons and last season posted a microscopic 1.64 for the Pirates and Nationals, closing 47 games in 51 chances. 

Melancon has 10 blown saves over the past three seasons. The Giants had nine in September alone. 

“We’re glad he chose us,” Evans said, smiling. 

When Melancon completed a physical on Monday afternoon in Scottsdale, the finishing touch was put on the richest contract ever given to a reliever. The deal put the Giants back over the competitive balance tax and carries a $17 million average annual value. The previous Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, was on a deal that originally guaranteed him $15 million total over three seasons. Melancon has blown that out of the water, and he could be in line for one more payday. 

The deal includes an opt-out after the second year, similar to the one given to Johnny Cueto a year ago. Melancon will get a $20 million signing bonus with $8 million deferred. He is due $4 million in salary in 2017 and $10 million in 2018, and if he opts out, he gets that money plus the full signing bonus, turning this into a two-year, $34 million pact. If Melancon doesn’t opt out, he will make $14 million in each of his final two seasons. He also received a full no-trade clause. That was simply the price of doing business for the Giants, who have avoided big-money closers since the Armando Benitez disaster. 

“You would have loved for this market to have been more in line with past markets, but the demand for closers is high and there were some big clubs pursuing them,” Evans said. “It certainly created a competition.”

The Giants were edged out in a competition for Melancon’s services in July, when they fell just short of the Nationals’ offer to the Pirates. They had the winning bid on Monday, and league sources indicated that the Nationals finished second this time around.

Melancon took advantage of the best closer market in MLB history, and he was the first of the Big Three to ink a deal. The Giants met with Melancon in San Francisco in November and also visited former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen at his home in Arizona. They never met face-to-face with the third big name on the market, Aroldis Chapman. Both Jansen and Chapman are expected to shoot past Melancon’s current high mark for money given to a relief pitcher. 

The Giants all along felt that Melancon was the right fit of the three. Evans noted his durability — he has made at least 70 appearances in five of the last six seasons — and said Melancon impressed team officials with a description of his preparation process. Melancon primarily throws a cutter in the low 90s and he’s not the traditional power pitcher in the ninth. He struck out just 8.2 batters per nine innings last season but he allowed only three homers and walked just 12 batters. Melancon ranked eighth in the majors in average exit velocity against, and the Giants believe that pitch-to-soft-contact approach is perfectly suited for an infield that has two Gold Glove Award winners up the middle.

“He’s a high ground-ball rate guy, which is perfect for our defense,” Evans said. “His preparation and approach — we just feel he’ll be a great fit for us.”

Melancon will be introduced to fans and the media on Friday at AT&T Park. When he dons the Orange and Black, the Giants believe he’ll be the final piece to a championship contender. They do not intend to make big waves in the rest of the market, although Evans said they would remain open-minded about additions to the outfield or bench. In the bullpen, the order is just about set. Any additions will likely be non-roster invitees at this point, tasked with trying to break into a group that includes Will Smith, George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and other young pitchers. 

Evans said he feels good about the collection — now that he’s found his closer. 

“He'll make the rest of the bullpen better,” he said of Melancon.