SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum is creating the story of Samson in reverse. He lost his strength, then he cut his hair.
“I wanted something different,” a preppier looking Lincecum said Friday, on the eve of the Giants’ annual FanFest. “Usually I’d take, like, six months between each haircut just because I was lazy.”
Work ethic wasn’t an issue for Lincecum following the worst personal season of his baseball life. There is his impending free agency after this year, which is a motivation for any player. There is his obligation to coaches and teammates. And there is more.
“I need to take care of my job and not embarrass myself out there, and that’s pretty much my mindset,” Lincecum said.
Did he feel embarrassed after his 5.18 ERA ranked highest among all qualified NL starters?
“Uh, yeah, definitely,” said Lincecum, who will make $22 million this year. “It’s not just the jersey, but it’s the name on my back, which is reflective of my family and their work ethic.”
And there is the front of that jersey. What will it say after this season, especially now that it’s a near certainty Lincecum will hit the open market in November?
GM Brian Sabean confirmed on Friday that he had no plans to engage in talks of a new contract with the two-time Cy Young Award winner during the season. But Sabean isn’t ready to wave goodbye yet, either.
“Everything is addressed in our organization on a year-to-year basis and so you have to keep an open mind,” Sabean said. “You have to see how it plays out.”
How will it play out with Lincecum?
Every club has a great unanswered question as the equipment trucks leave for spring training – even clubs that are coming off a World Series championship and return nearly the entire roster.
With the Giants, that question mark is floating over Lincecum’s newly close-cropped locks.
“Well, I do think that’s fair,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We talk about him a lot, and for good reason. He’s won two Cy Young Awards, and even great athletes have their ups and downs. Timmy wants to bear down and have a better spring, knowing he’s been a slow starter. It’ll be nice to see him get a good six or seven weeks and get him back on track.”
In case there’s any doubt, Lincecum will be back in the rotation. The right-hander said during his media session on Friday that he wants to “re-stake my claim as a starting pitcher and a good one” and “right now, my perspective isn't to be in the bullpen. My perspective is, I want to be a starter and I want to get back to that elite status that I was at.”
Bochy said there’s been zero discussions of shifting Lincecum to relief, where he excelled as a postseason weapon following a colossally disappointing season in which his 5.18 ERA was the highest among all qualified NL starting pitchers.
Lincecum took time away from baseball, went to Cancun with his girlfriend and then set about the task of figuring out what he needed to do to get his mechanics right and find come semblance of consistency again – from pitch to pitch as well as from start to start.
It began with new trainers, new “dynamic workouts” and gaining back weight – and not by chowing down on double-cheeseburgers.
“I can’t remember the last time I ate In-N-Out,” said Lincecum, who described his weight at near 170 pounds – eight pounds from last season, when he said he lacked the proper stamina.
Lincecum said he already feels stronger in his core, more balanced as he drives down the mound and believes his conditioning will make a difference in his mechanics. As for the rest, as for the mental grind, the waning confidence and the refinements a pitcher always must make to guide the baseball past major league bats, Lincecum listened to the voice he trusted most.
It wasn’t his father, Chris, or Giants coaches or teammates.
“It was more myself,” Lincecum said. “I feel like as an introverted person myself, I reflect more on things, how they affect me and what I think I should do differently. A lot of those answers came from myself and what I didn't want to go through. And I didn't want to go through last year again.”
Lincecum also wants to ensure that catcher Buster Posey is among those voices he can trust this season, and listed building a rapport with the NL MVP as one of his major goals this spring.
“Yeah, that's something that I'm going to be working on this year,” Lincecum said. “Obviously we didn't throw to each other many times last year, but when we did - in the playoffs - it worked out. There's nothing going on. It's just a matter who was coaching that day and who Bochy would put in there.”
Here’s a truncated version of Lincecum’s session, which began with a discussion of his shorter hair and his (non-prescription) glasses:
Q: You look like a poet.
A: I feel like I could write a pretty good poem or two.
Q: Did your workout change at all?
A: Yeah. I felt like I just incorporated a lot more stuff that I'll be doing with my body -- more dynamic workouts, that kind of thing. Just trying to get my body into more of a explosive and dynamic motion, that I had before, where I was getting down the mound, following through over that front leg.
Q: What did you take away from last year, from regular season to postseason?
A: I look back at it with open eyes, I guess -- taking it for what it was as it was. At the time, I was just trying to help the team. During the season, you try to do your job to help the team. When you're put in a situation like I was in the postseason, it's the most selfless situation you can be in when you're in the playoffs and you're just dying to make it to that next game. This year's a little different. I'm hoping to get back on that horse and be in the starting rotation again and re-stake my claim as a starting pitcher and a good one.
I'd be lying if I (said) I didn't get some negative thoughts in my head last year. But coming out of it and coming out the way we did -- because last year wasn't about me; once we got to the playoffs it was about the team -- it put my mind in a different perspective to do what I could again to take care of myself and work hard so when I'm called upon, whether it's as a starting pitcher or reliever, I can do my job and do it with confidence.
Q: Would you like to relieve again?
A: Right now, my perspective isn't to be in the bullpen. My perspective is, I want to be a starter and I want to get back to that elite status that I was at.
Q: How will your terrific postseason help in that regard?
A: As an introspective person, I kind of go on any river that will take me to an answer. Last year I had a lot of questions. I was trying to change a lot things at once. Getting my mind back to a stable point where I know what I'm doing and I know why I'm doing it, I feel like my confidence is back.
Q: How did you get it back?
A: For me, it's just acceptance, you know? Sometimes it's hard to accept the things that you don't want to. Last year was a tough one to swallow. But I got through it and the team helped me get there. This year, like I said, I just tried to take a fresh slate to it and approach this year as if I'm just another guy on the team, trying to do my job and do what I can.
Q: Can you pinpoint the issues that you had?
A: I feel like mechanics were a big issue with it and I feel like my lack of strength led to that. In 2011, when I was my heaviest that I've ever been, and then I dropped off and lost like 30 pounds, I feel like I lost strength with that and stamina. So, trying to put that gas back in the tank, I feel like I'm in a better spot now.
Q: How’s your weight now?
A: I put on the pounds that they wanted me to. Probably around 170
Q: How low did your weight go last year?
A: I'd say I got as low as probably the low 160s. But it's not necessarily the weight. It's the way I put on the weight; it's the work that I put in to get the weight. Because you can be 160 and be weak (or) be 160 and be the strongest person in the world. Pound for pound, I feel like I'm back to where I can be constructive as a starting pitcher.
Q: Describe your workouts.
A: Actually, I went to a different set of trainers. Not relying on myself as much but going to a set of guys that I was working with in Bellevue, (Washington), and just sticking with them five or six times a week. Running, pushing sleds, pull-ups -- all kinds of stuff, really. Those are the kinds of things I was doing to try to create the strength and dynamic explosion. Rubber bands. Jumping off the wall with them tied around my waist to create balance. Last year I didn't feel like I was landing on my front foot very well, and I felt like I wasn't even following through well. With that, the more stable my body is, the more I'll be able to uphold my mechanics.
I'm kind of an independent person, so being open to help was a tough thing to do. Knowing that I needed it allowed me to go after it. Acceptance was the hardest thing but knowing it was going to help is beneficial to me.
Q: The Giants helped you find trainers?
Q: How do you feel about free agency?
A: Personally, I'd just like to focus on this year. I've never really had any problems with my relationship with this organization. Obviously we've gone through those two-year deals. It might have not been what everybody else was looking for, but it was what I was looking for at the time and we got through it.
Q: As you thought about last season, whose voices were most powerful for you as you tried to figure out a plan, or what needed to change?
A: It was more myself. I feel like as an introverted person myself, I reflect more on things, how they affect me and what I think I should do differently. A lot of those answers came from myself and what I didn't want to go through. And I didn't want to go through last year again. So, changing my work ethic and getting on top of things I need to do to take care of my job and not embarrass myself out there is pretty much my mindset.
Q: Did you feel embarrassed?
A: Uh, yeah. Yeah. Definitely. It's not just the jersey, but it's the name on my back, which is reflective of my family and their work ethic.
Q: Do you need to work on your relationship with Buster?
A: Yeah, that's something that I'm going to be working on this year. Obviously we didn't throw to each other many times last year, but when we did in the playoffs it worked out. There's nothing going on. It's just a matter who was coaching that day and who Bochy would put in there.
Q: Are you still a thrower?
A: Uh, I guess that depends on who's hitting.
Q: Still a power pitcher?
A: I would like to, yeah.
Q: Have you noticed a difference in mechanics already?
A: Yeah, I definitely do. I feel like my lower half is below me now and I'm not trying to create too much with my upper half, which is not creating an out-of-whack motion. It's more just in sync and on time.
Q: Your dad helped you with mechanics?
A: Yeah. We work on mechanics just when we talk on the phone. It's something that just gets brought up. Baseball's such a big part of our lives. It wasn't anything where he came down to any particular throwing session I was at. I've kind of been taking his food for thought and working at it on my own because, A) he's not going to be there during the season.
Q: How about diet/exercise?
A: My training definitely changed. I feel like I've gotten on top of my diet a little better. I'm not eating nearly as (crappy) as I used to.
Q: Animal style?
A: I can't remember the last time I ate In-N-Out. I ate a lot more salads to be honest with you but I wouldn't say I crushed the vegetables.
Q: Did you do a lot of swimming again?
A: Yeah, I didn't do that. I felt like it didn't create the strength that I needed to be explosive, which is what I'm doing now. In water, it's a lot of long, powerful motions. Right now, I just need to be explosive and quick and dynamic getting down that mound, fast arm.
Q: What was the name of the place where you trained this winter?
A: Impact Performance. I already told them I'm going to use them when I go back. It was a lot of core, a lot of creating power and strength but not through heavy lifting, moving weight in a fast way. Obviously the biggest thing is creating strength in my shoulder so I can hold up. That's a big thing and the core is big. We did a whole bunch of stuff to cover the facets of this.
They were there to keep me motivated and push me when I don't want to push myself, the tough days when I'm like, 'Why am I doing this?' and then you come up with an answer real fast and then you justify it and you keep working. They were outstanding. What made it easier for me to relate to them is I actually went to a high school in the same district as them and they were guys who played in sports I played against and are still friends with. It made a small world for us.
Q: Will you be going back to a full windup this year?
Q: Have you kept track of all the money the Dodgers are spending?
A: Not really, with the exception of last year when they made all those moves.
Q: They signed Greinke, so…
A: Did they? I really haven't paid attention, no.
Q: What about the Mariners re-signing Felix Hernandez to a record contract?
A: I did hear about that, from my friend, because we're from Seattle.
Q: You’ve thwarted the Giants' marketing of the wigs.
A: Oh, darn.
Q: How about those glasses? Buddy Holly or Elvis Costello?
A: I've got to get the bigger glasses to be Buddy Holly.
Q: You know Buddy Holly?