PHOENIX Tim Lincecum pronounced himself ready for theseason, even though his line score wasnt pretty in a 7-4 loss to the MilwaukeeBrewers at Maryvale.
And even if Lincecum isnt throwing his slider.
The pitch was key to Lincecums turnaround from a wretched, 0-5August to a hair-flipping, World Series hero in 2010. But hes leaving it in his back pocketto start the season. He said he doesnt need the extra wrinkle.
But theres another reason hell limit himself to fastballs,curves and his signature split-change when he starts Fridays season opener atArizona.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged the slider isnt sofriendly on the elbow, and Lincecum is trying to pace himself this season.
He just wanted to back off, Bochy said. Its a longseason and he has a lot of innings in him. It probably puts a little morestress on his arm. He probably wants to wait to break it out later.
Asked a follow-up question about Lincecum's health, Bochy insisted that the two-time Cy Young award winner has no physical issues. It's true, Lincecum hasnt thrown hard this spring. But that is notatypical. He often starts out slow before zipping 94 mph on the gun when the seasonbegins. More important, he says, is location of his two-seamer so he can get ahead ofhitters and try for more efficient, contact outs.
It's still cause for concern, though. (That will always be true for Lincecum. People will always be at the ready to predict a breakdown. Story of his life.)
Lincecum did not appear concerned as he prepared to join the team flight back to the Bay Area. Although he struggled to get his fastball down all spring, he threw all heaters in his final two innings and said its the besthes felt.
Good, fine, everything felt the same, Lincecum said. Bestthe fastball location has been all spring. I feel ready to get back out thereand pitch in a real game. Im out there pitching for a purpose, and thats towin.
A few defensive plays werent made behind him includingone exchange between Lincecum and first baseman Brandon Belt and thatcontributed to a linescore that was messier than it shouldve been. Lincecumgave up two doubles to Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun also hit a two-run double asthe Brewers scored six runs on eight hits and one walk in 4 23 innings.
Lincecum, who was only scheduled to throw five innings,recorded four strikeouts and also hit Weeks with a pitch.
He ends his spring with a 5.70 ERA.
He will match up against Arizonas Ian Kennedy at ChaseField on Friday. Kennedy was 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in five starts against theGiants last season.
The Giants were 16-14-3 in Cactus League play, if you're keeping track of such things.
One reason I don't: Arizona was 12-25 last spring.
Even in the last Cactus League exhibition Sunday, Bochy, thecoaching staff and front office were still trying to evaluate players as theypiece together the opening-day roster.
In the case of Joaquin Arias, it was not great. Hismiddle-infield defense has kept him under consideration, and by allindications, he has been in competition with Brett Pill for one roster spot.
But Arias hasnt looked as steady at third base, and he hada chalk-outline kind of afternoon there Sunday. Seemed everything was just outof his reach.
Pill is no great shakes at third base, either. But hisability to back up Pablo Sandoval would be another notch in his utility belt asthe Giants try to justify carrying his right-handed power bat.
Youd better believe the Giants had a purpose by havingHector Sanchez catch Lincecum, too.
They need to figure out if Sanchezs defense has made enoughprogress to justify putting him on the roster as Buster Posey's backup.That way, their lineup wouldnt suffer as badly on the many occasions whenPosey needs a break from behind the plate.
Yes, the front office and coaches agree with you: A lowerthird of the lineup with Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford and either ChrisStewart or Eli Whiteside is not tantalizing in the slightest.
But they also have to do right by this pitching staff, andif Sanchez isnt ready defensively, they have to pay consideration to that.
Sanchez looked rough at times while receiving Lincecum, asmost catchers do. Timmy is tough to catch. Sanchez was charged with one passed ball and let one changeup in the dirt getpast him for a wild pitch. He also dropped a foul pop. But Ill give him abreak on the drop; it was especially windy and this is one of the worst sunfields in Arizona.
Sanchez also blocked several other curves and changeups in the dirt, as Bochypointed out.
He did fine, and Timmy looked comfortable throwing to him,Bochy said.
Final predictions after gleaning a bit more intelligence from sources today: Dan Otero makes it over Steve Edlefsen. No Eli Whiteside. No Brett Pill. Yes, Brandon Belt. And the final spot will come down to Joaquin Arias vs. a third catcher. If no Arias, then Chris Stewart and Hector Sanchez both make the club.
Time for me to begin my two-day exploration of I-10 and I-5,in that order. Before I turn out the lights in Maryvale, though considerthis:
The opening day roster and lineup are important decisions. It is an honor for the players. Those who make it are elated and those whodont are crushed. The decisions give you a window into what the front office and coachingstaff thinks of their players. (And another thing: The executives and coaches arent always inagreement.)
But opening day, for all the hoopla, really is just one gameout of 162. The starting nine that day will be exactly that: The lineup forthat day. Things change, injuries happen. Evaluations are being made all thetime. If Angel Pagan is the center fielder on Friday, it doesnt mean he canhave a .221 on-base percentage on April 30 and will continue to be the starting centerfielder. (It's true. Pagan has a .221 on-base percentage this spring.)
Same goes for Nate Schierholtz, Emmanuel Burriss, and yes,Aubrey Huff.
You will see Belt this year. I cant say for certainthat youll see him starting on opening day. But hell be a factor in 2012. A potentially bigone, too.
Lets just summarize my point this way: See if you can guess the opening-daylineup for your 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Now scroll down and count how many you got right. (No peeking!)
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Edgar Renteria
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Aubrey Huff
LF Mark DeRosa
C Bengie Molina
RF John Bowker
2B Juan Uribe
P Tim Lincecum
Bonus points if you knew that DeRosa was the only Giant tohomer on that opening day in Houston. Extra credit if you knew it would be hisonly homer as a Giant.
As I've often said, if you predicted on opening day of 2010 that the Giants would win the World Series, you are allowed to take no credit. That team didn't win it. Another one did.