SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tim Lincecum’s physical fitness passed the eye test and he looked balanced enough in his first mound sessions.
But the true feedback for a pitcher, as they say, can be found in the swings taken against him. Those swings might come as soon as Monday, when the Giants begin to indulge in the annual levity of live batting practice .
It’s always fun to see Lincecum twirl against Pablo Sandoval or Matt Cain stare in for a sign against Buster Posey.
After Lincecum’s crash landing as a starting pitcher last season, though, there might be a little less jocularity this time.
“There’s no question how Timmy does will have a big effect on this team,” Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti told me last week. “There are guys who ignite a team in different ways, and no question, Timmy ignites us.”
I asked Righetti what he hopes to see from Lincecum this spring, knowing that even during his Cy Young seasons his Cactus League ERA wasn’t always pretty. Folks will be more apt to overreact this time if he gets lit up or taken out early – even if the result doesn’t count.
Righetti said he just wants to see Lincecum get in a delivery where he’s comfortable and stay there.
“He has a different type of delivery, and as he’s gotten older with more wear and tear on his body, it’s harder to maintain,” Righetti said. “But it’s there and I want him to be in his slot where he’s comfortable and can command the ball. When he does that, all the anxiety kind of goes away and he can compete against the other team instead of against himself. So the sooner he can feel that way, the better.”
Can Lincecum regain his Cy Young form even if his average fastball is nearer to 91 mph than 94?
“No question,” Righetti said. “With his arm speed, his action, the way he throws the ball … I don’t care what the speed gun says on the scoreboard. I can tell by the way the hitters are trying to hit him. When he’s on and he’s sharp and able to change speeds, he’s just different from other guys. Nobody else throws like that.”
Righetti said Lincecum has a good positive and fit look about him. That’s where it begins, since the right-hander was trying to get in shape while working out his mechanics last spring – something that he couldn’t do successfully.
Back at FanFest, I asked Lincecum which voices spoke loudest to him over the offseason. He said he relied on his own voice, more than advice from his father or from anyone in the Giants organization.
Righetti considers that a good sign.
“Yeah because the words come out and he’s not saying them to say them,” Righetti said. “He’s grown and matured as a person as well as a pitcher and that’s what you want.”
“You know how many talks we’ve had? He’s probably gotten sick of it because everything was tough last year, quite frankly. It ended on a good note and that was huge, I think, for this year, the way he pitched in the postseason.
“But in general, I don’t envision myself as a coach wanting guys to need me. I want guys to be on their two feet learning for themselves. That’s what he went through last year.”
It was a light day in camp Sunday as pitchers took a day off from mound work. Not much to pass along from the workout, other than to point out a few new faces. Jeff Kent arrived as a roving instructor and Moises Alou showed up, but not in uniform, to greet Bruce Bochy and other players and coaches.
Ryan Vogelsong, upon seeing Alou, said, “Dude, that guy raked against me.”
Pitchers never forget these things. Sure enough, Alou was a .417 hitter (5 for 12) with a homer and a double against him.
Another new face was right-hander Ramon Ramirez, who got his visa issue cleared up and reported Sunday. He’s a non-roster invitee but he also has a 2010 World Series ring. So what gives with the No.92 in his locker?
“It’s the only number I had left,” clubhouse manager Mike Murphy said.
Indeed, it is a crowded camp. Perhaps Ramirez knew he wouldn’t have much elbow room when he decided to leave his guitar at home. Few know it or would guess, but he is an accomplished player and singer, too.
The other new bodies in the clubhouse were Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens’ staff for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, who came through like a parade meeting players and shaking hands. The Giants’ hitting coach and Curacao native is managing the Dutch team, and while other players will leave March 6 or thereabouts, Meulens has to take leave from the Giants on Tuesday.
That’s because the Netherlands was assigned to the pool that plays in Taiwan.
“A 14-hour flight,” Meulens lamented.
Meanwhile, catcher Tyler La Torre, who is playing for Team Italy, gets to compete in the bracket that will play right down the road at Chase Field. And you thought the Irish had all the luck.
Meulens already has a plan mapped out for the Giants in his absence, and he’ll be well covered. Special assistant Joe Lefebvre served as the club’s hitting coach until 2008, minor league hitting coordinator Steve Decker will patrol the back field and Triple-A Fresno manager Bob Mariano has worked as a hitting coordinator and interim big league hitting coach (with the Dodgers) as well.
We’ve got a long way before the Giants have to make any roster decisions, but I asked Bruce Bochy if he might go without a fifth outfielder if it looks like Brandon Belt could be an option in left field. He said yes, that is a consideration.
That would not be good news for Cole Gillespie, Juan Perez, Francisco Peguero and Roger Kieschnick – all of whom hope to compete for a bench spot.
The Giants might be able to go with four because Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco are more than just platoon left fielders. They can play all three outfield spots, and play them at a high level.
Maybe if the Giants go without that fifth outfielder, they can keep two from an infield competition that includes Kensuke Tanaka, Tony Abreu, Wilson Valdez, Nick Noonan and Brock Bond. Or they could carry a third catcher like Guillermo Quiroz, which would allow Hector Sanchez to be used more freely off the bench.
As mentioned, we’ve got a long way to go.
Add Sanchez to the list of Giants who will be doing extra conditioning work this spring, Bochy said. They aren’t just picking on Pablo Sandoval. Sanchez arrived a bit heavier than the club wanted, too.
Couldn’t fit this into the Matt Cain story I wrote earlier today, but I asked him if he’ll be sad to lose Houston to the American League.
Cain’s first thought wasn’t about the perfect game he threw against the Astros last season. He thought of Minute Maid Park.
“I didn’t really enjoy pitching there,” he said. “It was not one of my favorite places.”
He might have a different opinion if he got to enjoy the daily fried chicken in the press box.