Lincecum dominant, but questions remain

July 15, 2012, 5:32 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Perfect. A Tim Lincecum outing in which everyone can make up their own result. That ought to advance the issue of whether he is ready for the second half or not.

He watched his fellow Giants steal his fourth win but still beat the Houston Astros in 12 innings, 3-2, and retake the NL West lead by six percentage points over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who actually did turn a wild pitch and lousy fielding into a loss against San Diego.

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But we digress.

Lincecum had more than done his job, shutting the Astros out for eight innings, which is fine when you ignore the fact that they get shut out once every nine games or so. He struck out 11, a sign that he was about to regain his command, until you realize he threw an awful lot of high strikes past slow bats.

And he did not top 90 miles per hour with any pitch after the third inning, which is not a good sign, but he had better command of his off-speed repertoire, which is a good one.

In short, he won without being the Lincecum of old, which leaves the Giants and their customer base in the same quandary theyve been in all year -- asking questions with a multitude of contradictory answers.

He was good, but he wasnt cured. He succeeded and didnt get statistical credit. His lowered his ERA below six, but he didnt cause an outbreak of nostalgia.

He did a job. He did what may now be his job. Take that any way you like.

Lets face it, kids. This is what its going to be for each of his last 13 starts this year. You wont know what youre going to get, but youre going to agonize and over-analyze and over-over-analyze every appearance like it was December 20 and he was a freshly discovered Mayan.

He didnt look overpowering against the Astros, even though his pitching line did. This is probably an indication that he isnt, well, overpowering. His fastball started at 92 mph and was consistently at 89 after the third, but the Astros, almost surely the worst team in the game, werent on the fastball in any meaningful way.

And then when he shifted to his breaking stuff starting in the fourth, the Astros werent on that, either. In other words, they walked back to the dugout on all his pitches, fast or slow, in the zone or out.

This surely tells us that the Astros are a brutal offensive team. Indeed, they managed to extend Saturdays game only because Santiago Casilla and Hector Sanchez bollixed up what would have been the games final out, going strikeout, kick save, long run, bad throw, bad return throw to allow Justin Maxwell to score the tying run.

But Saturday was mostly another Timmy Caucus, because he remains the migraine that keeps on giving. He was a merciful benefactor, to be sure, but it was a scuffle rather than a sculpture.

And thats probably how its going to be from here on out. The new Lincecum paradigm may simply be one without style points. Every out should be considered a victory, and every non-out a cause for worry. If your stomach can handle it, fine. If not, white-knuckle your way through that Costco vat of antacids every time he pitches.

And spare a few tablets of medicated chalk for those Casilla save opportunities, too. This will not be user-friendly baseball.