Programming note: Giants-Nationals coverage starts Sunday at 10 a.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
WASHINGTON – Pitching can be a language unto itself, full of consonance and dissonance, of phrases turned and epithets hurled and artful, poetic expression.
Tim Lincecum cannot find any semblance of rhythm or meter on the mound. But the words slip out so easily to describe it all.
“It was pretty horses***,” said Lincecum, after a 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals Saturday night that might have cost him a place in the Giants rotation. “But … yeah, just horses***.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Nats knock Lincecum early, Giants fall 6-2]
If only his fastball had the same hiss, because Lincecum’s description was dead-on. In the second shortest start out of 246 in his major league career, and on an unseasonably cool night following a fridge-break of a rain delay, Lincecum gave up six runs while walking four and allowing a home run in 2 2/3 innings.
He has veered from stripe to caution bumps to sandy shoulder over a six-start stretch in which he has a 9.49 ERA and a super-sized 2.27 WHIP that includes 41 hits allowed in 24 2/3 innings.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he wouldn’t address the prospect of skipping LIncecum’s next start Thursday at home against the Colorado Rockies, saying he preferred to keep those discussions internal. But he did not knock down the possibility.
You know how these things usually play out.
“We’ll talk about it,” Bochy said. “He had a tough go. He was out of sync with his delivery, his command. He was off. These are things we’ll talk about later. Right now I prefer to talk to the players and staff, everybody.”
Even though Lincecum hasn’t pitched anywhere near worth the two-year, $35 million contract he signed last October, it hadn’t been a completely lost season for him. He threw his second no-hitter in two seasons. The Giants were 13-6 in his first 19 starts. He had a reasonable 3.67 ERA following his first start out of the All-Star break, at which time he’d thrown five consecutive quality outings.
But the last six outings … Lincecum almost needed a leather couch and upraised palms to describe them.
“I feel, to be honest, I’ve been overthinking,” he said, in dolorous tones. “You can think yourself through an outing and not be successful. Your brain is in the way and that’s what I feel like now. My head is getting in the way for me.”
That’s evident not only on the mound but in between his days to pitch. Lincecum hardly takes three steps in the clubhouse without gathering himself and winding up. He never had simple mechanics. These last four weeks, he is looking at them through fogged glass.
“It sucks to keep going through these ups and downs, the rollercoaster ride,” he said. “It’s a different part in my career but I’m still tenacious and competitive enough to not let this get away from me, not let this get the best of me.”
And if the Giants decide to skip him, what then?
“You know, if that ends up happening I’ll work with it,” he said. “And if it doesn’t, I’ll be back on board and work twice as hard to get myself right. I’ll lean on whatever Bochy says or whatever they do with the move.”
It is not an easy move to demote a pitcher making $17.5 million, especially one that owns two Cy Young Awards. The Giants made it through seven scattered years with Barry Zito, never backing off him for more than a start or two. But Zito, with his long pregame routines, wasn’t suited to pitching in relief. Lincecum has a World Series ring that proves otherwise.
The Giants have precedent of skipping struggling pitchers for just one turn, and while that's the likely scenario that Bochy and his staff will discuss, there's always the glinting possibility of a longer-term move. The Lincecum-as-reliever hypothesis has existed for the Giants since the day they drafted him.
And Yusmeiro Petit, although he has a 6.32 ERA in six spot starts, is on a run of near-historic goodness. He relieved Lincecum and pitched 4 1/3 innings to extend a streak to 38 consecutive batters retired – three away from matching Bobby Jenks’ major league record for a reliever and seven away from matching Mark Buehrle’s all-time record for any pitcher.
It’s like Petit has thrown a perfect game over his last six relief outings – and then retired 11 more batters.
Bochy said Petit saved the staff, and the most impressive part is that he was pitching with just a day of rest after throwing two innings at Wrigley Field.
The manager was hoping for more length from Lincecum. Instead, he might have come to the end of the chain.
“You can tell he’s searching,” Bochy said. “He’s been through this. If anybody can handle it, it’s Timmy. … He’s having trouble getting the ball where he wants.
He’s falling off to the glove side quite a bit. We’ll talk to him and see what we’re going to do here.”
Lincecum’s flat six-pack of starts began after he recorded his first career save in that 14-inning victory July 22 at Philadelphia, but he said that outing had no bearing on what followed. Neither he nor Bochy thought the absence of personal catcher Hector Sanchez hasn’t been a factor.
“You’d like to think that’s not going to come into play that much,” Bochy said. “But it’s really a non-issue because Hector has a concussion and won’t be back here for awhile.”
Said Lincecum: “I think the problem is me.”
The only easy part: breaking down the breakdown.
“I kind of screwed us over,” he said. “I mean, I really screwed us over.”