WASHINGTON – Giants catcher Andrew Susac, asked what he’s learned about working with Tim Lincecum thus far, said the key is to get him through a clean first inning.
His confidence builds, he stops the mechanical thoughts from swimming and he runs from there.
Lincecum did not have a clean first inning Saturday night. The second inning was no better. And the third inning, he hit the showers.
Lincecum has made 246 starts in his major league life. His 2 2/3 scattered innings represented the second shortest of his career in the Giants’ 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
Is it time to start a conversation about start No. 247?
Lincecum has become less and less competitive over a six-start stretch in which he has a 9.49 ERA and a super-sized 2.27 WHIP that includes 41 hits allowed in 24 2/3 innings.
The flat six-pack began after July 22, when he made a rare relief appearance and recorded his first career save in a 14-inning victory at Philadelphia. That’s probably more a coincidence, though. The absence of personal catcher Hector Sanchez, who is dealing with multiple concussions, might be a factor on some level.
Mostly, though, this is about Lincecum being so mechanically out of whack, and shot for confidence, that he has retired a total of three batters past the fifth inning in his last six starts. And perhaps the Giants will intercede to give him the time he needs.
Starting pitching report
Those clean first innings haven’t happened often for Lincecum (10-9), who gave up a triple to leadoff man Denard Span, issued two walks and gave back a two-run lead before escaping with the third out.
Lincecum has an 8.31 ERA in the first inning while allowing seven of his 18 home runs. He also has a tepid 1.05 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first inning, compared to 2.7 strikeouts per walk after that.
If Lincecum had corrected his issues right then and there, the Giants would’ve had a chance. Instead, he mixed non-competitive misses with wildness within the strike zone. He walked No. 8 batter Asdrubal Cabrera, Span singled in the tie-breaking run and then Anthony Rendon followed with a slow roller that Pablo Sandoval couldn’t handle cleanly. Sandoval complicated matters with a wild throw that allowed a run to score, and Jayson Werth’s RBI single capped the three-run inning.
Sandoval’s error caused two of the three runs to be unearned, but considering the rally started with a walk to the No. 8 hitter, they weren’t wholly undeserved.
Lincecum brushed 90 mph just twice all game, mostly working with an 86-88 mph fastball that he tried to cut. But all his implements were dull. Cabrera pounded Lincecum for a home run in the third inning on a do-nothing cutter, and after pitcher Jordan Zimmermann followed with a double, Bruce Bochy wandered out for the baseball.
Yusmeiro Petit threw 4 1/3 perfect innings to continue his dominance out of the bullpen. He has a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief outings and is unscored upon in his last nine appearances (spanning 16 1/3 innings).
Here’s the most amazing part: As you might remember, Petit came within an out of a perfect game against Arizona last year, retiring 26 in a row. Well, over his last six appearances, he has been perfect while retiring all 37 batters he’s faced. That’s the equivalent of a perfecto, plus 10 more.
Of course, you can’t discuss putting Petit in the rotation without pointing out that he has a 6.32 ERA in six starts.
At the plate
The Giants jumped on the board when Angel Pagan hit a leadoff double and Hunter Pence did what appeared physically impossible – getting the barrel to a neck-high, 93 mph fastball – while hitting a two-run home run to dead center.
Pence’s 18th homer of the season gave the Giants a 2-0 lead. But unlike Lincecum, Zimmermann was able to settle down.
Sandoval’s error on Rendon was his first since May 24, snapping his streak of 73 consecutive without an error. He would’ve had to play error-free in every game until Sept. 20 to equal the major league record for a third baseman (99), held by Jeff Cirillo and John Wehner.
The Nationals announced 34,137 paid. The first pitch was delayed by one hour, 12 minutes because of rain. After Chicago, we call that a fridge break.
The Giants and Nationals wrap up their three-game series at Nationals Park on Sunday. Ryan Vogelsong (7-9, 3.73 ERA) takes the mound against Nats right-hander Stephen Strasburg (10-10, 3.41). First pitch is scheduled for 10:35 a.m. PDT.