Two years ago, Bruce Bochy ignored Barry Zito's contract, studied his games, and made him the fifth wheel in the Giants' four-man playoff rotation, to much consternation and wagging of tongues. This time, Bochy seems to have doubled down and done the same to Tim Lincecum, despite the same contractual and historical perceptions, and for the same reason. Results.
Bochy announced Ryan Vogelsong will pitch Game 3 Tuesday, and barring a complete change of heart regarding Barry Zito or a need to bring back Matt Cain on short rest in Game 4, the decision on Lincecum is as close to official as not actually saying it can be.
In short, Bochy has done everything but shout it out.
In addition, Lincecum worked with the relievers earlier today, which is another dot that can only be connected one way. Thus, Lincecum's elevated place in the pitching hierarchy apparently has been rendered less important than his substandard resume this year.
The decision can be considered surprising to some because:
(a) Lincecum is Lincecum and has the Cy Young bookends to prove it;
(b) Vogelsong seemed the likeliest candidate for bullpen work, especially in Cincinnati had either Zito or Lincecum struggled in the absurdly friendly confines of Great American Ball Park;
(c) How many Cy Young winners and franchise faces get reduced to scut work so soon after the acme of their careers?
But there is one reason why it makes perfect sense, even with all the payroll, political and long-term implications that might be implied, namely this:
Bruce Bochy manages the ball team, not the payroll. He did it with Zito and Pablo Sandoval two years ago (although Sandoval wasn't so much a payroll consideration), and even though Lincecum has more on his Baseball Reference page than most people his age, nothing about his 2012 suggested anything but a cul de sac in his career.
Lincecum presumably will become the principal long man if such a creature is needed, but it is likelier still that there will be no opportunities for Bochy to use him in this series unless something has gone dramatically wrong for the Giants. Bochy's decision delay in announcing the rotation probably comes in part to protect Lincecum from the media grilling, but the decision to go with Vogelsong had been made awhile ago, perhaps as much as two weeks. Bochy kept his options open, but Lincecum's last few outings dipped while Vogelsong's rose, and Zito had long ago established his CV as a member of the rotation.
The announcement is binding only for Cincinnati, of course, and Bochy can revisit the issue for any subsequent series. But for the moment, Bochy showed that he is not only large and in charge as he was in 2010, but that he is far bolder with his lineups than any of his critics are willing to admit. Indeed, Lincecum got significant applause from the crowd before the game because he still has throw-weight in the stands.
But he does not have quite so much with the manager when the results run at such odds with the history. Whether the Lincecum move works, doesn't, or has no effect at all remains to be seen, but it is the move that seemed one step beyond until Bochy did what he did two years ago.
Go on record rather than rep.
Ray Ratto is a columnist at CSNBayArea.com