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.
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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.
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.