Lincecum: 'It all starts with fastball location'
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's all about timing for Tim Lincecum.
When he's right, he's a two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher. When he's wrong, his ERA hovers around five and his upper body can't keep up with his lower body. The "timing issue" Lincecum has been stuck with occurs when his left foot plants before his arm is approaching his release point.
"That's what happened in the first inning," Lincecum said after recovering from a 25-pitch opening frame on Mother's Day. "I needed to get in front of myself."
His 12-pitch second inning was evidence that he made the necessary adjustment, and it led to getting in front of plenty of Braves hitters as he spun seven innings of two-hit baseball in the Giants' 5-1 win over Atlanta.
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With his motion back in sync, Lincecum added seven strikeouts to the Giants' N.L.-leading staff total of 320. Four of them came on his split-finger change-up, which dove out of the zone all day.
"He didn't drop his guard with two strikes," manager Bruce Bochy said.
That's when he was at his best, burying off-speed pitches in the dirt when he needed to and staying in the zone at the right times -- an observation made by battery-mate Buster Posey.
Lincecum had lost his previous four regular season starts against the Braves -- allowing 12 runs in 24 2/3 innings -- but there was no denying him Sunday. It was B.J. Upton's 1,000th career MLB game and his first time facing Lincecum; he left AT&T Park impressed.
"You're used to seeing 95-, 96-mph, but he's still got the stuff," said Upton, who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk against the Giants starter. "He threw his out-pitch when he needed to, and he threw it in a spot where it looked like a strike and it's not.
"He pitched well, you have to tip your cap to him."
The sold-out AT&T Park crowd tipped somewhere close to 42,231 caps to Lincecum after his 111th pitch ended the seventh inning. Lincecum, who seemed to tire late in ballgames last season, threw 114 pitches against the Phillies on Tuesday.
"He's stronger this year," Bochy said.
[GIANTS EXTRAS: Playoff baseball in May, visiting Melky, etc.]
For Lincecum, it's the confluence of physical ability and mental commitment that makes the All-Star pitcher. With his body in great shape, it will be key for him to corral his absolute concentration before every pitch. Lincecum, whose fastball location has been problematic over his struggles, was dialed in on Sunday.
"That's when he's at his best, when he has that concentration," Bochy said.
"I was more focussed pitch-to-pitch," agreed Lincecum, before acknowledging that it was "definitely" his best start of the season. "The misses were good misses. The ones they hit were pitchers' pitches.
"But it's still a work in progress."
Lincecum's timely performance came on the heels of dominant starts from Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, and the rotational momentum is very real.
"Hopefully it's the start of something good," Lincecum said before smiling. "One of those things where (the starting pitchers) kind of kick each other in the ass."
We'll see if Barry Zito felt it when he faces reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in Toronto Tuesday.
NOTES: It was Tim Lincecum's third quality start in eight attempts this year. ... For the second time this season, Tim Lincecum did not allow a run. ... Brian McCann was held hitless after he homered in the first two games of the series. ... B.J. Upton went 0-for-3 in his 1,000th career MLB game.