SAN FRANCISCO – The ceilings are 9 feet in Bruce Bochy’s office – not the ideal clearance to display something like a giant elk head.
Yet there it was, freshly mounted to the wall Tuesday afternoon, looking all the more ridiculously huge because its antlers scraped the gypsum panels overhead. And looking with frozen eyes at anyone who walked through the door.
Better an elk in the room than an elephant, but the Giants have one of those, too. It’s somewhere near Tim Lincecum’s locker.
The Giants are 2-0 in Lincecum’s starts, and that shouldn’t be minimized. They only won consecutive Lincecum outings twice before the All-Star break last season, and sometimes it just takes a happy handshake line or two to get some positive momentum going.
Lincecum looks stronger and fitter, too. He came back from a 32-pitch second inning and delivered the Giants through six, giving up only a solo home run to Troy Tulowitzki the rest of the way. Last year’s Lincecum, who pitched below his fighting weight, would’ve been sucking air and probably hit the 100-pitch mark long before then.
But here is where it’s all tusks and trunks.
In two starts, the opposing pitcher is 0-for-1 against Lincecum with three walks and a sacrifice bunt.
That's right. Lincecum has faced an opposing pitcher five times. He's recorded one out that wasn't handed to him.
Lincecum walked Josh Beckett last Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. He walked Juan Nicasio twice Tuesday night at AT&T Park – including the two-out free pass that preceded a pair of two-run hits in the Rockies’ five-run inning.
Lincecum recovered from that, and so did the Giants in a 9-6 victory on an unseasonably warm night at China Basin.
[RECAP: Giants 9, Rockies 6]
Summarized Bochy: “This is one he should feel good about.”
Except for one thing. When you walk the pitcher, it tends to get jotted down on scouting reports. And when you make your next start, opposing hitters are going to try to wait you out. They're going to force you to throw them strikes. They are going to wait for you to drop your guard, and then pounce.
Lincecum used to put hitters on the defensive, and he still has put-away stuff. He flashed a tremendous curve and changeup at times while recording seven strikeouts, six of them swinging.
But his fastball command still has moments when it sounds like a slipping transmission. And a 162-game season is like a cross-country drive. It’s not a good feeling when you start hearing noises and you’re barely out of the driveway.
Does Lincecum have it within himself to fix the problem? Probably. He went down the tunnel after the second inning – when he threw just six of his 15 fastballs for strikes – and looked at film, saying he picked up something right away that helped.
But the onus remains on him to fix it, and for the repair to hold. He won’t have any chance at becoming that dominant, “Happy Timmy Day” presence until he can flip those scouting reports and put hitters on the defensive again. That way, on the (theoretically) rare days when he doesn’t have his best control, opponents won’t feel like they can wait him out. They might even start bailing him out by chasing some of those pitches.
It starts with eliminating the big stuff, the obvious stuff, and he knows it.
“The pitcher … should be an out,” he said.
There is one obvious improvement over last year's Lincecum, though. I asked him if he felt his work between starts and greater commitment to fitness might have helped him settle down after the second inning and catch his breath.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “It’s nice to have that crutch to lean on, I guess you could say, after a long second inning. For me, it’s not such a question mark if I’ll last later. It’s, 'If I just make my pitches, I’ll be fine.'”
Bochy also said he thought Lincecum was up to speed now after the blister issue set him back during the spring.
“I felt comfortable with him knowing he had another game (in Los Angeles) over 80 pitches,” Bochy said. “That helped him build up his stamina. He showed it today. This game was more like going into the season where he normally is. I was comfortable letting him get to 100 pitches.”
Bochy said even with a fully rested bullpen, he liked what he saw from Lincecum and would’ve sent him back out there in the seventh.
Maybe next time, a more efficient Lincecum can go even deeper. And maybe the Giants can win again – which would be no small peanuts.
Last year, the Giants didn’t win three consecutive Lincecum starts until Sept. 1-12.
“We’re winning games even though he feels he doesn’t have his best stuff, so that’s a good thing,” said shortstop Brandon Crawford, who resuscitated the Giants with his three-run homer in the sixth.
“When he does feel he’s on, we should be able to win whether we score one run or nine, like tonight.”
One quick postscript:
Both Bochy and Lincecum were wondering why all five runs in the second inning were earned, since second baseman Marco Scutaro made a bad decision to try for an out at second base on a grounder and threw the ball into left field.
The reason is that the play was scored (correctly) as a fielder’s choice and the error only accounted for Troy Tulowitzki moving up to take third base. The scorer does not have the discretion to assume an out there, even though Scutaro had an easy play at first base. Later events in the inning rendered Tulowitzki’s extra 90 feet a moot point. So all the runs were earned.