SURPRISE, Ariz. – Tim Lincecum’s exhibition start on Friday was crappy enough.
Three innings on just 35 pitches. No runs. No strikeouts, either.
Just a lot of the crappy contact, to use Lincecum’s exact words, that the two-time Cy Young Award winner hoped to induce this spring.
“Even some of the pitches they’re hitting were where I wanted them to be,” said Lincecum, who allowed two hits and plunked a batter but didn’t issue a walk while facing a good portion of the Kansas City Royals’ A lineup. “Things are coming easier. The more I extend myself, the better it is.”
[RELATED: Brandon Crawford makes tough plays look easy]
The same could be said for the Giants rotation at large. Following Lincecum’s outing, the five starters have combined to allow one run (and just three walks) in 23 innings this spring.
It’s not unlike Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner to rock back and throw strikes in early March. But Lincecum’s command continues to impress. And when he mixed in his slider for the first time Friday, he darted the zone with that, too.
“I wanted to pound the zone more than I did,” said Lincecum, who had a four-pitch walk in his Cactus League debut last week.
Even when he struggled the last two seasons, Lincecum’s strikeout rate didn’t plummet. He was still fanning almost a batter per inning. It’s not like he’s ready to become Bob Tewksbury out there this season, but he said he wouldn’t fall into the trap of pitching away from contact.
That’s what got him into trouble the past couple seasons. He didn’t know how to pitch without swing-and-miss stuff. And that was awfully inconvenient as his average fastball dipped from 94 mph to just above 90.
He threw 90-91 in his first start and was 89-91 on Friday. Is he hoping it’ll tick up?
“I’m hoping it will as I get my arm strength up, get a feel for a big-game atmosphere again,” he said. “But I’m not too worried. It’s about placement and if I set my sights low, I'll be better off than not.”
Everything always came so easily for Lincecum. But he finally began to understand that this transition to a command pitcher, to a mound artist who exploited weaknesses and executed well-reasoned pitch sequences, was not something he could become on the fly.
So he rented that warehouse, built that mound and spent the winter throwing.
It’s early, this is spring training and Lincecum hasn’t achieved anything on the field yet. He will never again be the freakish force who won two Cy Young Awards in 2008-09.
But he sounds like he has achieved something in his own mind. And that’s not so small to discount.
“I believe I can throw strikes with any pitch in any count,” he said. “If I fall behind, I feel I can come back and make a good pitch. That’s the difference between today and the last couple years.”
How did he make that transition?
“Because,” he said. “I know I did all the work already.”