SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum feels like his stuff is rounding into form.
His manager thinks he’s getting there. So do his teammates.
But which Lincecum will the Giants get when the games start to count next week?
That’s the ultimate question for the Giants as the regular season approaches.
Lincecum’s start Thursday night, like his entire spring, was a mixed bag. At times he showed nasty stuff, striking out six and walking just one in a 7-3 loss to the A’s. But he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and, for the second straight start, served up a monster home run to Yoenis Cespedes.
It’s even tough to know what to make of his final line Thursday – 4 2/3 innings, five hits, five earned runs, one walk, six strikeouts – because the three-run homer allowed by reliever Jeremy Affeldt after Lincecum left made the right-hander’s line look worse than it should have.
Lincecum came away fairly satisfied, judging from his comments after leaving the game.
“The ball had some good movement,” he said. “I missed some spots there. You know, Cespedes. But all in all, the ball was coming out of my hand well.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t sound concerned that Lincecum never made it through five complete innings in any of his five spring training outings. He had encouraging things to say about his two-time Cy Young winner, who slipped to a 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA during the 2012 regular season.
“I was pleased with Timmy’s outing. He should be,” Bochy said. “He had good stuff, he commanded the ball well. He made a couple mistakes, but again, he’s a little bit behind with that blister he had this spring. I thought this was a good game for him to build on before he throws his first game in L.A. (on Wednesday).”
Shortstop Brandon Crawford thought Lincecum was sharper Thursday than he was earlier in the spring.
“I think he looked a lot better, he was throwing a lot more strikes, he had a little more command than he had the past couple of outings,” Crawford said.
But it’s anyone’s guess how Lincecum fares starting Wednesday, and that’s what makes him so fascinating as the season gets underway. We’ve seen Lincecum at his dominant best – 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA and 526 strikeouts from 2008-09. And last season we saw what happens when the wheels come off.
The Giants need him to stabilize and serve as a steadying force in the middle of their rotation. And Lincecum himself needs a strong bounce-back season as he prepares to hit free agency for the first time next winter.
He was asked how he felt about his spring overall.
“I wish I would've gotten out there more,” he said, referencing the fact he only got five starts because of the blister. “But I think we're at the point where you just kind of have to put that at the wayside, and you just have to compete out there to get outs. That's where it all happens. I feel like my stuff is getting there.”
The real test starts Wednesday.
Here’s a couple other tidbits that came out of Bochy’s postgame session Thursday night:
--Pablo Sandoval took batting practice and came out of it feeling OK. If he still feels good Friday, he could be in the lineup at third base to test his injured right elbow. But Bochy also left the door open for Sandoval to fly to Arizona to get at-bats in minor league camp and then join the Giants in Los Angeles for the season-opening series against the Dodgers. That way, if Sandoval aggravates his elbow, the Giants could still backdate a D.L. stint and get him back April 6.
“At the same time, if he doesn’t feel that good, he’s probably gonna need some time (to recover anyway),” Bochy said.
--Bochy was impressed with reliever Jose Mijares on Thursday. The lefty pitched a scoreless inning with a strikeout after being hindered by an elbow impingement during camp. He’s expected to be in the season-opening bullpen.