By Vince Cestone
For the ninth consecutive game, the Giants lost on a Lincecum start. Overall, he is 2-8, with a 6.19 ERA in 2012.
And every start seems to be the same story.
A typical 2012 Lincecum start goes something like this.
He looks dominant for the first three innings, untouchable like the old "Big-Time Timmy Jim." It is not uncommon to see him have six or more strikeouts in these early innings.
Then, around the fourth inning, a few line-drive singles here, a few infield hits here, and finally, a big extra-base hit caps off a four-run inning.
The deficit by the middle innings is usually too insurmountable for a Giants' comeback.
Lincecum followed the same pattern in his most recent start against the Seattle Mariners. His line looked like this:
5 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR, 6 SO, 2 BB, 5 hits.
Not a quality start by any stretch of the imagination. He squandered a 4-2 lead and took his eighth loss of the season (and we are just in mid-June).
Should San Francisco Giants' fans be worried about their two-time Cy Young Award Winner? You bet.
Fortunately for Lincecum, his recent struggles appear not to be for lack of stuff. No, no--it's a much bigger problem.
Lincecum has a strong 83/41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77 innings pitched. His fastball velocity cruised between 91-93 mph against the Mariners Saturday, and his offspeed pitches--changeup, slider, curveball--had exceptional movement.
Despite all the troubles, Lincecum is still striking out more than one batter per inning. Then, what's the problem?
Simple--it's the command.
Lincecum not only has trouble getting just one pitch over the plate. He is wild with all of his pitches.
At one moment (most of the time), it is his fastball that he cannot get over the plate. Other times, it is his devastating changeup that he cannot seem to locate quite right--he either leaves it up or bounces it two feet ahead of the plate.
The command and control is just not there. The result? Well, the hitter is greatly advantaged
The hitter can guess what is coming and lick his chops.
If Lincecum's fastball is not finding the strike zone, a hitter can easily sit on offspeed pitches and simply take the fastballs. His fastball is eliminated from the hitter's mind.
I have seen many long homeruns this year on some pretty decent Lincecum changeups and sliders. In the past, even if a changeup was out over the plate, hitters would still be fooled by the speed and still swing and miss.
That was because Lincecum had a more accurate fastball for hitters to think about, so they were badly fooled when a changeup came along, making it much harder to guess the pitch.
Today, however, batters can expect a changeup or slider, wait back on it, and hit it hard somewhere.
Lincecum has his amazing stuff still, as he has shown start-after-start. However, stuff is half the battle.
The other half is command. Without command, a pitcher is merely a thrower.
The Giants should definitely skip Lincecum's next start--maybe the next two. How will it help?
One, Lincecum can think things over and clear his mind. A $20-million pitcher has a lot on his plate--and a lot of hype to live up to.
Secondly, it will give him more time to tweak his mechanics. Perhaps he and pitching coach Dave Righetti can find something to get him going again.
It worked for Jonathan Sanchez in 2009. After he was moved to the bullpen, he went on and threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on the first day he returned to the rotation--on a spot start for the injured Randy Johnson.
My thoughts: Give Timmy some time to think it over. He is a great pitcher, but lacks the command.
Even though Lincecum appears to have it in there somewhere, if he cannot regain that command, his career will be cut short.
Still in denial about the seriousness of Lincecum's struggles?
Consider this: The Giants would have the best record in baseball if they won just half of Lincecum's starts.
If San Francisco went just 7-7 in his starts, the Giants would be 43-26. The Dodgers currently own the best record in baseball at 42-26.
The Giants are 2-12 this year in Lincecum's starts.
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Information from ESPN.com contributed to this article.
Image Attribution: By SD Dirk on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Tim Lincecum") [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons