SEATTLE The Giants must ask themselves the questionnow.
They are 0-9 with Tim Lincecum on the mound since the end ofApril. He has a 6.19 ERA that ranks 121st out of 124 major leaguepitchers with a minimum of 10 starts. He mixed flashes of brilliance with justenough mistakes to send him to another defeat Saturday night, this one in hishometown, during the Giants 7-4 loss at Safeco Field.
His next day to pitch comes on a day off. It would be soeasy for the Giants to skip their ace. Should they?
Lincecum made his feelings known on the subject. They were unequivocal.
Asked if he would fight to avoid being skipped, the28-year-old had a light in his eyes and a quick response.
Yeah, I want to pitch every fifth day, he said. I wantthat ball.
Thats the answer the Giants should want to hear. Even asthe club has lost again and again with him on the mound, even as his outingsunraveled in every way they could unravel, Lincecum has not shied away from taking the baseball.
His teammates sense that.
Each time out, I assume hell go out and pitch like he hasthe last couple years, shortstop Brandon Crawford said. I dont think of himas being a guy who dwells on his last start. I think he just goes out wantingto throw a shutout, and thinking hell do it every time.
This would have been a perfect time, and a perfect opponent.Lincecum was making his first career start at Safeco Field, just a few milesfrom where he starred at Liberty High in Renton and at the University ofWashington. He made changes in his last bullpen session to shorten and simplifyhis delivery that encouraged both he and the coaching staff. And he was facing a Mariners lineup that ranks among the mostfeeble in the league.
He insisted he was not amped up when Casper Wells crushed amistake fastball and Jesus Montero hit a slider for home runs in the firstinning.
No, just didnt execute the pitch to Casper and personallyI felt it wasnt a bad pitch to Montero, Lincecum said. He just put a goodswing on it. After that I just tried to settle down after that inning and, youknow, pace myself.
He did, retiring 10 of the next 11 hitters while the Giantsgave him a 4-2 lead.
But he hit a snag in the fifth, when Dustin Ackley hit aleadoff single. And forced to operate from the stretch for just the second timein the game, the unraveling began again.
Lincecum said his pitches just got away on a four-pitchwalk to John Jaso. But what Lincecum really regretted was Ichiro Suzukischopper up the middle, which barely evaded the pitchers glove. Second basemanRyan Theriot did well to smother the ball and keep it on the infield for an RBIsingle.
Then came the other major mistake. He choked down on an offspeed pitch that bounced in the dirt and off Buster Posey's chest protector. The Mariners scored the tying run on the wild pitch.
I felt like I could have gone another inning if I justcatch the ball that was right to me, the one Ichiro hit, Lincecum said. Ijust missed it. I shouldve caught it. I was able to catch that ball.
The almost catchable ball became a theme in the sixth, after Lincecum exited to aloud, supportive ovation following Monteros leadoff single.
Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt didnt execute a pitch to MichaelSaunders for a line single. After that, all three of the Mariners hits were onthe ground.
Crawford ranged across the middle to field Ackleys grounderbut looked to tag the runner heading to second base, then double-clutched andcouldnt record an out. Third baseman Joaquin Arias tried to backhand FranklinGutierrezs grounder down the line and couldnt make a clean stop. If he had,he couldve beaten the runner to third base or at least gotten an out at first.
Montero scored the tiebreaking run on the play, then Brendan Ryan followed with a two-run singlethat kicked off the mound and into center field.
Affeldt could only shake his head.
Youre getting ground balls, you know? he said. Guys werejust safe. Nothing you can do. I felt I got the ground balls to get out of thatinning. It just didnt happen. They were just in-between scenarios. Crawfordturned to tag the guy, the ball to third didnt happen. You walk away from thatinning and theres nothing you can do.
I could make the same pitches tomorrow and they might allbe outs.
It was not lost on Affeldt. This happened on Lincecums day.And because Affeldts inherited runner scored the tiebreaking run, the lossbelonged to Lincecum, too.
You just feel bad for Timmy, Affeldt said. I felt I couldhave gotten out of it for him and I didnt. He needed a break tonight. He just he cant get a break.
Hopefully hell turn it around, and Ive seen it happen toa pitcher. Hell get to the second half and the guy will be unhittable, having thetime of his life out there. I really believe if he keeps grinding it out,things will turn. Its just a matter of time and belief and getting the ball tobounce the right way.
It almost pains Giants manager Bruce Bochy to deliver the same patter after Lincecums losses. But it seems to be the only thing to say:
Hes too good at times, Bochy said. Thats why we keepsaying, Hes close, hes close.
It seems like he gets out of sync when hes out of thestretch. Theres a ground-ball hit and a walk, similar to most of his othergames. He settled down and was throwing great. He just got out of sync there.He was pitching his heart out and we let the game get out of reach. Its hardto explain because hes so good at times and then he has his hiccups.
Said Affeldt: It probably seems to him right now that everymistake he makes, its going to get hit. Its not going to get fouled off ortaken for a strike or hit at someone. Thats not the zone hes in now.
Details aside, Lincecum has a 6.19 ERA. And the box score will show that he took another loss.
Yeah, thats pretty much what you look at, he said of the result. Imjust going to be looking at that L obviously and breaking down that outing asthe days come. Right now, Im not happy about the loss. Theres silver liningshere, you know, so Ill take those, but yeah. Im just Im pissed.
And he wants the ball again, as soon as possible.