EXTRA BAGGS: Lincecum knows what must come next, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Lincecum knows what must come next, etc.

CHICAGO Here is what Tim Lincecum is thinking right now:

Take out the statistics. When Ive had to dig deep, Ivedone it.

This is not Timmy the rookie curiosity, who whipped pitcheswith ferocity. This is not Timmy the Cy Young Award winner, who didn't need to read scouting reports to level a lineup.

What we have now is Timmy the veteran. He has been to the top and back down. He has a track recordand hes going to lean on it, dammit. He was 0-5 during a miserable August2010, and he turned it around so dramatically by sparkling all throughSeptember, then into the postseason, then standing on the mound and dominatingin the only November game in franchise history.

You remember how that one ended. Timmy does, too.

If this first half is my terrible August (of 2010), thatswhat it is, said Lincecum, after pitching the Giants to a 5-2 victory over theCubs at Wrigley Field. Weve just got to keep pushing hard and heading in theright direction. So Ill do that.

We know whats at stake. We know how to do it.

They knew what was at stake last season, too. People neverstopped reminding them. There was a Showtime documentary series. There wereheightened expectations. There was the Carlos Beltran trade. They were supposedto defend. But with the lens trained on them, and the Arizona Diamondbacks kickingup dust behind them, the Giants burned up down the stretch.

Lincecum admitted this spring that all the pressure todefend their World Series title became a distraction. Their motivations wereexternal to not let people down and not internal, as they should have been.The Giants culture in 2010 was so unique because, to a man, they had an earnestdesire to win for the player one locker over. It was a defiance, of sorts. Theyplayed without fear because they had nothing to lose.

Last years team had a crown to lose.

When you win a World Series, its not often you win anotherone the next season, Lincecum said in a cramped Wrigley clubhouse. You wantthat one and you fight for it, but it can be a different fight. Its not thegrind youre looking for, and you can focus on the wrong things. This year,were focused on ourselves and not what theyre doing on our heels. Simplifyingit is really helping.

Lincecum feels like hes back in nothing to lose modeagain. Theres certainly no rescuing the back of his baseball card, as heentered Saturday with a 7-14 record and 5.30 ERA.

But imagine if Lincecum can replicate his finish from twoseasons ago, when he went 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in his final six assignments.

Ive already done it before, he said. Ive been there. Ican do it.

It wont be easy. Lincecum has battled to repeat hismechanics all season. Hes 28 now, hes thrown 19,347 pitches in a relativelycompressed span, and its only natural for some air to escape the balloon.

This deep into this brow-furrowing season, there is no suchthing as a hes back start.

But there were encouraging signs at Wrigley Field. For one,Lincecum was able to throw his fastball inside to right-handed hitters something he was totally incapable of doing in his previous start against theAtlanta Braves, and on many other occasions this season.

For another, Lincecum had choices in big moments. He couldthrow his slider whether behind or ahead in the count. With two strikes, hecould throw his curveball as a chase pitch or a freeze pitch (hello, AlfonsoSoriano). His changeup faded when he needed it.

He had confidence in all his pitches and used them, saidGiants manager Bruce Bochy, almost seeming refreshed to put those wordstogether. He was mixing it up, hitting his spots, throwing any pitch at anytime. Thats what he does when hes on.

What felt best, Lincecum said, was leaving the game inthe situation I did, with the lead.

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Lincecums spot in a potential playoff rotation is yet to beestablished, too, although I cant imagine any scenario besides an injury thatwould lead the Giants to leave him out of the top four.

And theres no way I see Lincecum pitching his way off aplayoff roster.

The Giants felt from the day they drafted Lincecum that ifhe didnt prove durable enough to make 30-plus starts, he could be apotentially dominant weapon in relief. Hes resilient, he never ices and hegets loose in five or six tosses.

I still believe there will be a time in Lincecums careerwhen he goes the John Smoltz route and becomes a closer. I doubt he or hisagent would embrace that notion next year, as Lincecum comes up on free agencyfor the first time. But itll happen someday.

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Lincecum was asked by plate umpire Dan Iassogna to take offhis bracelets during the game. The Cubs complained they were a distraction.

Lincecum scowled, but complied. He said teams usually dontsay anything, but hes received the request before. It wasnt anything new.

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Lincecum figures that Xavier Nady deserves a uniformpromotion from No. 68 after hitting a bases-clearing double in his first game asa Giant. As for his own number, Lincecum said he had No. 60 in his first springtraining and he never asked for No. 55 when he arrived in the majors. Clubhousemanager Mike Murphy just gave it to him.

It seemed appropriate enough. He threw hard, and 55 isassociated with the speed limit.

Yeah, and thats what I think about all the time when I seeone driving, Lincecum said. Ive gotta steal one of those.

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Joaquin Arias began taking fly balls in left field onSaturday. Hell start at shortstop Sunday and Monday, as the Giants faceleft-handers. Bochy said he didnt want to burn out Arias with a bunch of earlywork on the days he is in the starting lineup, but the discussion continues

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Noticed this while looking at some statistical splits:

The Giants have one home run all season from their second basemen.They have two from their pitchers.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."