Lincecum still supported at AT&T Park

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Lincecum still supported at AT&T Park

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO Golf clap.

Thats the sound that accompanied another of Tim Lincecumsbrusque dismissals Sunday afternoon.

Yes, there was applause at AT&T Park as Lincecum walked offthe mound, head bowed.

It was polite. It was not enthusiastic.

Notably, there were no discernible boos.

Lincecum is not happy, but he remains in a happy bubblehere.

And no wonder. He became the first Giant in two generationsto win a Cy Young award. Then he won another the next year. He was dominant in2010 when the Giants most needed him. He is the only pitcher in San FranciscoGiants history to win a World Series clincher.

He is the ultimate, undersized underdog. People will alwaysrelate to him, always identify with him.

That earns you a golf clap even when you are 2-7 with a6.00 ERA after 13 starts. Even, unbelievably, when the Giants are 2-11 on yourday to pitch.

Even though its not much of an argument: In terms of pureproduction in 2012, Lincecum is more overpaid (18 million) than Barry Zito(19 million).

Zito did not enjoy many golf-clap moments. Meanwhile, Lincecumcould hook his drive into a water hazard. Outside the ropes, someone will stillbe there to shout, You da man!

It helps the fans stay patient because the Giants are winning behind their other starting pitchers. But the ropes are tightening. The postgame explanations arebecoming a feedback loop. The answers do not come easily, and yet theexplanation is so simple:

Lincecum is not hitting his spots. He isnt putting the ballwhere he wants to.

He allowed a season-high nine hits in 5 23 innings of theGiants 5-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, and yes, some of those hits came on goodpitches. Adrian Beltre hit an RBI double on an on-the-black slider. Ian Kinslerdug out a changeup for a two-run double.

Those will happen to any pitcher, whether hes on a roll orin a funk. The problem is that theyre happening to Lincecum with multiplerunners on base. And those multitudes of baserunners are reaching becauseLincecum just hasnt been as consistent with location. His OBA is .265, thehighest of his career (75 hits in 72 innings). His walk rate of 4.68 per nineinnings is the plumpest its ever been, too.

Lots of baserunners lead to lots of stressful innings. Andeven when Lincecum escapes, as he did while retiring Mike Napoli with the basesloaded in a 30-pitch first inning, it taxes him and has a cumulative effect.

That first inning kind of had a wear on me, Lincecum said.I got two outs and you hope for a clean inning, and it turns into three walksand youre against the wall. That kind of hurt me there.

Lincecum issued those walks because he couldnt throw acompetitive changeup in the early going, and the Rangers have a collection ofpatient, smart and talented hitters. They could eliminate Lincecums best pitchfrom the start.

Just I was choking it, Lincecum said of his changeup.

He was gripping down too hard. He wasnt letting it happen.

And yes, his problems were compounded because plays werentmade behind him notably by third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

RELATED: Sandoval's sloppy play means he won't enjoy a day off

I will say that in some of his starts, for some reason, wehavent played the cleanest games, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

The rest of the postgame comments were so similar that theyarent even worth passing along. Bochy said everyone still has confidence thatLincecum will turn it around. Hes close. Its just one inning or a mistake ortwo, and hes not getting away with them. Hes staying upbeat and positive.Theres no reason to skip a start, which the schedule wouldnt allow them to doanyway.

Lincecums sparse synopsis: Thats what Ive been goingthrough not executing and questioning things.

Questioning pitch selection? Not feeling conviction, asMike Matheny used to put it?

I dont think its a matter of conviction, catcher BusterPosey told me. Its more a matter of trying to be too fine. The stuff isthere. Its less about trying to strike a guy out. Its more, Let your stuffwork in the zone a little more.

Thats easier said than done when youre giving up hits at acareer-high rate.

Perhaps its worthwhile to examine the one great escape thatLincecum did manage.

After walking the bases loaded in the first inning, he facedNapoli a premier fastball hitter that had never faced Lincecum in the bigleagues but had seen him before in a spring training camp game a few years ago.

Napoli was getting extra at-bats with an Angels farm team ona day that the Giants sent Lincecum to get his work done at the minor leaguecomplex. Napoli batted every inning and was 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles andtwo walks. Afterward, Lincecum memorably exhaled and said, Man, that was a lotof Napolis.

Facing him when it counted with no place to put him, catcherBuster Posey called a great sequence and Lincecum mostly executed it.

Pitch 1: First-pitch slider just off the plate. Napolo failsto check his swing. Strike one.

Pitch 2: Changeup in the dirt again. A 55-footer. Anon-competitive pitch. Ball one.

Pitch 3: Just when Napoli was looking anything but fastball,Posey called for one. Lincecum put it on the inner edge and froze him. Strike2.

Pitch 4: Another slider off the plate that Napoli had toprotect against with two strikes. He hit a ground out. Inning over.

I asked Lincecum about that sequence. He agreed it was hisbest of the game.

Thats what I need to get back to, he said. Just givemyself the benefit of the (freaking) doubt.

Posey certainly is. He kept calling for the changeup, hopingLincecum could establish it. And Bochy is, too. He let Lincecum face JoshHamilton, the most fearsome hitter in baseball, amid a final jam in the sixthinning.

Bochy said it wasnt an easy call, but he hoped retiringHamilton could allow Lincecum to end on a good note despite another discordantday.

Lincecum gave up a tomahawked, two-run double down the rightfield line.

Golf clap.

Thats been the theme of Lincecums first 13 starts in 2012.The Giants hope it wont be the story of his next 13, beginning with hishomecoming at Seattles Safeco Field on Saturday.

Hes sure to get a thunderous ovation there.

You know, Timmys working hard, Posey said. Thats allany of us can ask of him.

Giants notes: Bumgarner to take next step in rehab; no skipping Moore

Giants notes: Bumgarner to take next step in rehab; no skipping Moore

SAN FRANCISCO — It wasn’t until a few days ago that Madison Bumgarner was cleared to swing a bat, but he certainly hasn’t appeared to miss a beat. In his second round of BP back at AT&T Park, Bumgarner started peppering the park with line drives. 

It was a pleasing sight for players and coaches who watched, and the next step will give them a bit more to be excited about. After throwing a bullpen session Tuesday, Bumgarner will take the next step in his rehab. He’ll start for the Sacramento River Cats on Friday, kicking off what could be a tour of the organization’s California affiliates. 

Bumgarner will throw every five days as he normally would, but the Giants aren’t sure it’s necessary to send him to Albuquerque for his second start. Manager Bruce Bochy said nothing is final, but Bumgarner’s next start could come July 5 in San Jose, where he hasn’t started since five dominant appearances in 2009. His next start after that could also be in San Jose, since Triple-A has an All-Star break when he’s scheduled to go July 10. 

After that? Well, how ‘bout the big leagues? 

Team officials haven’t shut the door on Bumgarner returning as early as July 15 in San Diego. That would be the second game out of the All-Star break, and would have Bumgarner back about two weeks earlier than first expected. The Giants do not want to rush him, but they’re proud of the way he has attacked the rehab process, and at some point they won’t hold him back if he's deemed 100 percent. 

First things first, Bumgarner needs to get through Friday’s start. The early returns have been positive. He threw three innings in an Arizona Rookie League game Sunday and was so dominant that he had to go down to the bullpen to get his pitch count up. Bumgarner threw 16 fastballs, 14 for strikes. Javier Lopez was on hand keeping an eye on Bumgarner and said the ball was coming out of his hand as it always has. 

--- The Giants have a couple of off days coming up, but Bochy said he is not considering skipping Matt Moore, who has a 6.04 ERA. 

“Right now, we’re better off pitching him,” Bochy said. “He was so good in Atlanta. It’s really important to keep him going. There’s no health issue. I think he needs to keep pitching. I think he's really close, I do. Some of these starts, he’s probably trying to establish his fastball too much and he didn’t have great command of it.”

--- Austin Slater (hip flexor) is expected back in the lineup Wednesday. He didn't play Monday, but he was cleared to pinch-hit if needed. 

--- Cody Hall, a former Giant, is back with the organization. The Giants traded Hall to the Diamondbacks last January and he was briefly a Marlin later in the year. Hall was playing independent league ball when the Giants signed him to a minor league deal. He’ll likely head to Double-A as depth. There have been some injuries and promotions at the higher levels of the organization. 

--- Steven Duggar was in camp for the first time and he might have been an outfield replacement had he stayed healthy. After dealing with a flexor strain and hamstring tightness, he returned to rehab games last night. He should be in San Jose soon, and then it’ll be back to Sacramento at some point. Duggar is the center fielder closest to the majors, so it would be nice to get a look at him in September. 

--- There was something new Monday night, and it wasn't just the victory. Sam Dyson pitched the eighth, striking out Nolan Arenado, Raimel Tapia and Ian Desmond around a single. Bochy said after the game that Dyson is his main eighth-inning guy right now. That's quite the ride for a guy who was DFA'd not long ago, and it's another feather in Dave Righetti's cap. Remember, the Giants basically got Dyson for free. 

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

SAN FRANCISCO — In the bottom of the eighth inning Monday, with the Giants finally running away with one, Johnny Cueto started blowing into a giant wad of bubble gum. He held two hands out, ready to catch remnants of an explosion as Brandon Crawford and Kelby Tomlinson looked on and smiled. 

A few minutes later, players started migrating to the dugout rail as they have done in each of the three starts Ryder Jones has made. They are ready to cheer on a rookie’s first big league hit, even if the wait has been an excruciating one for the third baseman. 

Bruce Bochy likes to say that your personality is better when you’re winning, and his players certainly showed that Monday in snapshots here and there. They woke up to a report that there were fractured in the clubhouse, caused in large part by the new closer. They denied it, they met as a group, and then, finally, they won. 

Jeff Samardzija pitched as he has for two months, the top of the lineup came through over and over again, and Brandon Crawford paced a golden night with the gloves. A 9-2 win over the Rockies was just the second since June 11 and it snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rockies. Any win is meaningful at this point, but this one seemed to mean just a little bit more given the drama of the day. 

“Despite what people might think, we still have a pretty good group here and we get along just fine,” Crawford said. “We’re all rooting for each other.”

It’s one thing to support teammates off the field, and there’s been no indication that the Giants aren’t doing that. It’s quite another to be hand-in-hand between the lines, and for much of this season, Samardzija has been on an island. 

The right-hander has been Bochy’s best pitcher since Madison Bumgarner went down in the hills outside Denver. But he entered Monday with a 2-9 record and 4.74 ERA inflated by faulty defense. He hasn’t grumbled, but he has grown accustomed to the worst, and when Nolan Arenado bounced a ball deep to the hole in shortstop with two on and two outs in the third, Samardzija figured the game was probably tied. 

“I’m thinking maybe they charge it in the outfield and maybe make a play at home,” Samardzija said. “But with a guy like that at shortstop, things change so fast.”

Crawford scooped the ball on the edge of the grass. He would have liked nothing more than to make an otherworldly throw to first to nail his World Baseball Classic teammate, but he knew the best chance was at third. A couple of days ago, Crawford and Jones discussed how the rookie should cover third on such a play. Jones played it perfectly, retreating in time to catch Crawford’s inning-ending throw. 

“The best thing (about Crawford) is he doesn’t even talk about it,” Samardzija said.

No, Crawford put the spotlight on Jones.

“That’s a pretty heads-up play,” he said. “We talked about it and he was there. It was a funny coincidence.”

The play held the lead, and the Giants kept pushing. The top four hitters in the lineup finished with 10 hits, six RBI and six runs. Brandon Belt had an RBI triple in the five-spot. Crawford drove in a run behind him. Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson added insurance from the bottom. Bochy watched it all from the top step and saw a group collectively relax.

“Just quit fighting it so much,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in this offense. There’s no reason they can’t put consistent runs on the board. Tonight I just thought the at-bats were so much better and the focus was. Once it started rolling, guys felt better about themselves, and it just got contagious.”