Lincecum's rare seven isn't lucky enough for Giants

Lincecum: 'It's great for me personally, but we did lose'

Lincecum's rare seven isn't lucky enough for Giants
April 26, 2013, 11:00 pm
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It’s great for me personally, but we did lose.
—Tim Lincecum on his performance Friday night

SAN DIEGO – It was a bit odd to ask Tim Lincecum about his disappointment after a 2-1 loss. It probably was odd for him to consider and answer them, too.

There weren’t any moon craters in his pitching line. There weren’t any concussive home runs. There weren’t any moments when he could lean on one of his pat answers about “going back to the chalkboard” or “trying to find something positive” or “put this behind me and focus on my next start.”

These are all good things, mind you.

But even a pitcher who wandered aimlessly while amassing a 5.18 ERA last year cannot feel good about taking a 2-1 loss.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Padres 2, Giants 1]

“It’s great for me personally, but we did lose,” said Lincecum, after the Giants managed just one run on a wild pitch at Petco Park. “On a personal note, it was great to go seven and not be all over the place the whole game and do my best to keep the team in position to come back.”

The Giants are 4-1 in Lincecum’s starts, and no, he hasn’t been all over the place – especially in his last two outings, both against the Padres.

This time, Lincecum had his knives sharpened. He struck out nine – his most since July 14 of last season. And while seven innings doesn’t sound like any great distance, it’s a marker that Lincecum hadn’t reached since Aug. 10 of last year, against the Rockies.

Lincecum pitched well, bordering on very well, yet the Giants lost – and yes, this is a rare combination.

Only once last season did the Giants lose when Lincecum allowed two runs or fewer.

So what does he do with a night like Friday? Drive himself to be a bit better the next time? Or be satisfied with his progress and hope for a few more clutch hits when he starts again Wednesday at Arizona?

If there was one lesson Lincecum could take away from the Padres’ two-run, four-hit rally, it’s that he needs to guard against going for strikeouts at the expense of location.

“You get to a place where you want a strikeout and you can overthrow pitches,” Lincecum said. “That’s what happened with Quentin and Headley.”

He elevated mistakes to both hitters, resulting in two-out singles. Yonder Alonso added one more to drive in the tiebreaking run.

It was a low dose, all things considered. But it was poisonous enough.

“He probably dropped his guard there a little bit,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, about the two-strike hit that Padres Pitcher Andrew Cashner collected to start the inning. “He made a couple mistakes that inning but he regrouped and threw a good ballgame.”

What stuck out to me is that Lincecum struck out nine, went seven innings and yet had a manageable pitch count. He had thrown 105, and probably could’ve gone back out there in the eighth if the Giants didn’t need to lift him for a pinch hitter.

That got me to thinking: When was Lincecum’s last complete game? There was a good reason I couldn’t remember it, because it came 61 starts ago – a three-hit shutout against the A’s on May 21, 2011.

This is no great erosion. Lincecum only had one complete game that year, and one in 2010. The outlier is 2009, when he threw four.

I asked Lincecum: Do you think about going out there and throwing a complete game again?

“That’s my intent going out there every game,” he said. “It’s just allowing myself to get there, and I haven’t in the past. So hopefully this is a sign of something good.”

As’s Chris Haft mentioned on Twitter earlier in the day, Lincecum’s first career complete game came here at Petco Park, on Sept. 13, 2008. It was a dazzling four-hit, 12-strikeout shutout – and Lincecum threw a staggering 138 pitches.

Bochy took a lot of heat that day, but he said he had become convinced Lincecum had a rubber arm and could handle the workload. The right-hander was emerging as a viable Cy Young Award candidate, and no Giant had claimed that prize in more than four decades. But the lack of a CG likely would’ve been a blemish on his record in the eyes of voters. So Bochy was motivated to let Lincecum finish a day’s work.

Lincecum might be paying for all those pitches now. His ability to maintain his stuff deep into a game has diminished bit by bit every year since then. In the next year or three, he will make the inexorable transition to relief pitcher.

After 61 starts without a complete game, it’s impossible to watch him take the mound and expect, or even hope, he could give the bullpen a full night’s rest.

Then again, the Giants don’t need that from Lincecum. They just need him to pitch as efficiently and effectively as he can.

He did both Friday night, as well as he’s done it since July 31 of last year. That was the previous time in which he’d completed seven innings with no more than two earned runs.

It just wasn’t enough to win this time.

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