Programming note: Giants reliever Javier Lopez joins Chronicle Live tonight at 5, 7pm and midnight, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The environment was completely different on Wednesday, when Tim Lincecum stepped on a mound for the first time since Game 3 of the World Series in Detroit.
There were no fans, no howling din and no season-ending repercussions. A lot less hair spilling out the back of his cap, too.
There was Buster Posey, though. And a little bit of pressure.
Lincecum knows his every move will be scrutinized this spring, perhaps his last as a Giant with free agency on the horizon. And even in his Cy Young seasons, he never did cruise through the Cactus League on autopilot.
There is plenty the latent observer could take from Lincecum’s first 8-minute mound session. He appeared to have better balance as he planted and followed through. His fastballs appeared to hit the corners, and only a few rode up. He popped Posey’s glove with little apparent effort.
But the most important evaluation belongs to Lincecum. And the pitcher who had such a crisis of confidence last season emerged with the belief that he’s on better footing to rebound in 2013.
“Oh yeah,” Lincecum said. “I definitely feel ahead of where I was last year.”
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A year ago, Lincecum said he was still trying to shed the weight he had gained in 2011, when he gorged on fast-food cheeseburgers in an effort to improve his stamina. He did seem to pitch better in hot weather, but he didn’t like the way his body felt. A winter in the swimming pool helped him trim down, but he didn’t train for the kind of explosive movement that is so essential to his unique, gymnastic delivery.
So he worked on resistance training and firing those muscles instead of merely burning calories. From the first day, he said he could notice a difference.
“It’s getting over front leg,” he said. “I felt my front leg was actually stabilizing my motion when it comes to an end and I was actually following through as opposed to falling out of it or wheeling off. So I was actually able to stay right on target.”
That’s a key for Lincecum as he seeks to find consistency from pitch to pitch – something that evaded him last year. He also didn’t have the stamina he needed, which turned out to be a double whammy. All those 35-pitch battles in the first inning made the subsequent innings that much tougher because he often didn’t have enough fuel in the tank to rally for a quality start.
“I put myself in a hole,” he said.
That’s the part that bothers him the most about last season. It wasn’t like the losses in previous years, when he’d regret a bad pitch or three that got hit hard. Those are never easy to take, but you move on.
Last year, there was so much more that felt out of his control. He wasn’t going to feel that way again.
Lincecum told me he kept spinning the same song through his headphones this winter: “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals. It served as an inspiration and a reminder that he needed to put in the work to get the results that often came so much easier to him in the past.
Who knows? Maybe he’ll even use it for his warmup music this season. (Folks will always associate MGMT’s “Electric Feel” with him, though.)
Lincecum said he didn’t incorporate any mound work into his offseason throwing plan because he wanted to hit a full reset on his mechanics.
“The last few years I’ve been leaking (my pitches) back over home plate a lot so I’ve been trying to stick to the flat ground and stay on my back foot, and that allows my arm to slow down and stay back,” he said. “So when I got back on the mound today it didn’t feel weird at all.”
Throwing to Posey didn’t feel weird, either – even though it continues to be a popular discussion topic that the NL MVP often didn’t start behind the plate on Lincecum’s day to pitch.
There was no plan for Posey to work with Lincecum in the first official workout of the spring, said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
“I just kind of walked over and he was the only one left,” said a smiling Lincecum, who threw in the third and final group of the day. “I don’t know if they were scared to throw to him or what. I was, 'I guess I’ll just take him.’”
And when the session was over, in customary fashion, they met midway for a handshake. Lincecum patted Posey on the back and they compared a few quick notes.
The consensus: They’re off to a good start.