Confidence key in Lincecum's best outing of the year

Confidence key in Lincecum's best outing of the year
April 20, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Saturday was Tim Lincecum's first regular-season start since Aug. 15, 2012 with Buster Posey behind the plate. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum enjoyed by far his best start of 2013 on Saturday night.

And though the talk will center on who Lincecum was working with behind the plate during a 2-0 victory over the Padres, perhaps the bigger key was what he had going on between the ears.

The right-hander looked more confident. He appeared in total command of the situation.

The stat line, therefore, was no surprise: 6 2/3 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, eight strikeouts.

[Instant Replay: Giants 2, Padres 0]

Surely one great start isn’t enough to say the two-time Cy Young winner has cured all the issues that have plagued him since the start of last season. But if the Giants’ No. 4 starter can replicate this sort of effort with any consistency, manager Bruce Bochy can feel much better about his uncharacteristically shaky rotation.

“He seemed very determined out there and had great focus,” Bochy said. “He kept the ball down, and he went up when he needed to. He had a good changeup going and kept it down, but I thought he used his fastball very well.”

It was the fourth start of the season for Lincecum (2-0), but his first regular-season start since Aug. 15, 2012 with Buster Posey behind the plate. Much has been made over the fact that – coincidentally or not – Bochy hadn’t paired the two up in any of Lincecum’s first three outings of 2013.

Regardless of the reasons for that, Lincecum and Posey worked in such perfect harmony Saturday night that there’s little doubt who will catch start No. 5.

“When you get a rhythm out there as a pitcher and you’re not shaking (off signals) too many times, knowing that the catcher’s on the same page as you, it’s not even a question of what he puts down, just where he’s gonna put it,” Lincecum said. “There’s tons of confidence when I can go out there and do that and you can stick to your game plan and know it’s gonna work.

“That gives you, like, a spring board to jump off of, instead of going out there aimlessly.”

But although Posey’s influence had a great impact on Lincecum’s night, by the pitcher’s own admission, so much of his success had to do with his own mindset.

He said he was visualizing what he wanted to accomplish before doing it, and he took the mound “with a purpose and knowing every pitch has a meaning to it.”

It was also clear that Lincecum worked at a quicker tempo. There was less time between pitches, and that’s the sign of a pitcher who knows what he wants to execute and is eager to do it.

Posey was impressed.

“I thought he had a great tempo from the start of the game,” the catcher said. “He did a good job of pounding the zone.”

Interestingly, Posey said that working quicker was not a topic of pregame discussions whatsoever.

Lincecum began the game determined not to repeat the pattern that marked his past two starts, when things spun out of control with one disastrous inning. His biggest pitch of the night came with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning of a scoreless game.

He ran the count to 3-1 on Chase Headley, the Padres’ No. 3 hitter, then busted him inside with a fastball that Headley grounded weakly to second to end the threat.

That pitch was called by Posey. The conviction behind the offering was all Lincecum.

“I was thinking I’m not gonna walk this guy,” he said. “Even if it’s down the middle, I gotta be aggressive and throw every pitch with a meaning. I think that was the difference today.”

--Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who provided all the Giants’ offense with a two-run homer, left the game in the eighth inning after fouling a ball off his right ankle. He said the ankle was sore but that he wasn’t concerned it was serious.

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