Lack of first-inning rhythm dooms Lincecum in loss

August 27, 2012, 5:32 am
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SAN FRANCISCO Tim Lincecum beat Tim Hudson in one categoryon Sunday.Lincecum had four strikeouts in five innings to Hudsons three in seven. Infact, in by far the worst season of Lincecums career, he is still striking outmore than a batter an inning with 155 punch-outs in 151 innings.But maybe its time for Lincecum to take a tip from Hudson, who doesnt havethe gaudy strikeout numbers that Lincecum has become known for since he startedblowing through Pac-10 hitters at the University of Washington. Hudson wasclearly the better pitcher Sunday, as he led his Braves to a series split witha 7-1 win over the first-place Giants.I do think you learn from watching other players, Giants manager Bruce Bochysaid. The way Hudson pitched tonight shows you how important it is to poundthe strike zone and use your defense and thats what he did. Keep the ball downand hit your spots and you dont need to try strike out guys. Thats what makeshim successful.Lincecum wasnt ready to admit he should emulate Hudson,pointing out that the 14-year MLB veteran depends on a sinker that hasdifferent action than Lincecums running, two-seam fastball. Definitely, Lincecum said, when asked if he could learnfrom Hudson. But, I mean, Im not a sinkerball pitcher, either. So I cantjust rely on a sinker thats going to keep dropping down as the game goes on. Iguess those are things that you could add in to your repertoire. Mines justbeen consistently getting a good, running two-seamer. Lincecum, the man with just nine quality starts in 27outings this season after throwing 52 combined in his Cy Young years of 2008and 2009, instead blamed yet another poor performance on rhythm. He walked leadoffman Michael Bourn and gave up two singles and issued another free pass en routeto a two-run deficit before his offense even got a chance against Hudson. Atlantassecond run came on a single off the bat of Braves catcher Brian McCann, who droppeda bloop perfectly in between second baseman Marco Scutaro, centerfielder AngelPagan and rightfielder Hunter Pence. But its still a line drive in the boxscore.I was fighting myself a lot in that first inning to find a rhythm, Lincecumsaid. You hope to get bad contact and I did on the ground ball (a JasonHeyward single) and the blooper by McCann, but those dont necessarily go inyour favor.Bochysassessment was similar: Lincecum simply struggled to find the proper mechanicsthat leads to a rhythm that at one time made him so dominant.He was fighting himself quite a bit, Bochy said. He wasout of synch out there. We even talked about it during the game. He felt likehe was too quick. He was trying to get his rhythm out there. And I dont knowif he was over-amped or what the first inning, but he just had trouble gettingthe ball where he wanted.Unfortunately for the Giants, early problems have become more of the rule thanthe exception with Lincecum this season. He has now given up 25 runs in thefirst frame, which leads the major leagues.The first inning is a critical inning, Bochy said. Thats when thepitcher is trying to get in synch and get in a rhythm. And good pitchers,sometimes you say you have to get them early before they get settled in. WithTimmy, its been an issue at times.Lincecum didnt dance around the problem in his postgameinterview, sharing the now-typical soul searching that has followed many of hispoor outings.You always feel like you couldve avoided it had you madebetter pitches, Lincecum said. So when those two runs do score, or a run doesscore on a bloop, you just end up blaming yourself. I was just getting behindon batters and wasnt really attacking the zone in that first inning, which ledto those runs.The Braves added a third run against Lincecum in the fourth inning on a homerun by Juan Francisco that travelled over 450 feet to the right-centerfieldbleachers. Lincecum finished the fourth, but was pulled for a pinch-hitter inthe bottom half after throwing 90 pitches.I felt better, more consistent throughout the next fourinnings, Lincecum said. But I wasted my pitches in the first.Lincecum threw 32 pitches in the first, while Hudson needed just seven first-inningpitches to get through Pagan, Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, who finished 0-for-4on his bobblehead day.The Giants first three batters have been carrying the team of late, butcombined to go 0-for-11 with a walk on Sunday. A rhythm-less Lincecum coupled witha hitless top of the lineup is a sure recipe for a Giants loss. The top of the order is always critical to your offense,Bochy said. Angel, what a job hes done. And Scutaro really all of them.Sometimes youve got to give credit to the pitching and these last two starts,theyve thrown the ball very well.Hudson, effectively using his sinker to keep the Giants bats quiet and hispitch count down, cruised through seven innings and now owns a six-game winstreak against San Francisco, spanning nine starts. He was on top of his game, Bochy said. It was strike oneit seemed like to every hitter. And thats how you want to pitch.Thats how Bochy wants to see Lincecum pitch, too. Instead, Lincecum went 3-0,2-0, and 2-0 to the first three batters he faced. While that certainly doesntsuggest Lincecum is on the brink of turning his season around, the one thingthat keeps him positive is his own optimism. When the bad starts keep pilingup, how does he do it?Just knowing that the next day is a new day, Lincecum said.I know that sounds really clich, but you can always come back from the dayand work hard and not leave anything out there.

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