SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum didn't give the Giants what they usually receive from him, with the possible exception of hope.Statistically, Lincecum's struggles reached an unprecedented pace Monday as the Giants dropped the opener of a three-game series to the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-2. But a careful look at his performance suggested that it wasn't as dreadful as the numbers indicated. Lincecum (0-2) surrendered five runs and eight hits in six innings, marking the third time in as many starts that he has yielded five or more runs. Dating back to his final 2011 outing, Lincecum's five-plus streak actually stands at four games. Since reaching the Major Leagues in May 2007, the right-hander had never allowed at least five runs for more than two straight games. He has allowed 16 runs this year, marking the first time he has coughed up that many in a three-game span. By contrast, Phillies starter Roy Halladay (3-0), like Lincecum a two-time Cy Young Award winner, lasted eight innings, allowing seven hits -- including three Buster Posey singles -- and both Giants runs. The initial regular-season faceoff between the aces, who split their pair of meetings in the 2010 National League Championship Series, lacked real drama.
That was mainly because Lincecum remained vulnerable in the first inning, when Philadelphia scored four runs. He has allowed nine first-inning runs this season, compared to eight in 33 starts last year.Nevertheless, the right-hander was effective enough to provide reason for optimism. "I think, without question, this was a much-improved outing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Said Lincecum, "It's easy to say when things start falling off in that first inning, 'Here we go again.' But I tried my best to put a stop to that and pitch better from the second inning on." Lincecum, whose ERA dropped from 12.91 to 10.54, issued only one walk while striking out six. He retired 10 consecutive batters after Laynce Nix's two-run double capped the Phillies' big first inning. Philadelphia mustered one run and four hits off him in his final five innings, though one of those hits was Halladay's RBI single. "That's pretty much what I can take from this outing, that my last five or so innings were good and I'm going to try to feed off of that," Lincecum said. Moreover, that first inning might have unfolded differently were it not for a defensive lapse -- which has been a common sight for the Giants so far. With one out, Philadelphia's Placido Polanco lifted a fly that sliced away from center fielder Angel Pagan toward the right-center-field gap. Pagan and right fielder Melky Cabrera converged on the ball, which fell for a double. The next four batters reached base safely. Jimmy Rollins walked before Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino lined RBI singles. Nix followed with his double. Pagan criticized himself harshly for misplaying Polanco's hit.
"We miscommunicated," Pagan said, admitting later that neither he nor Cabrera called to each other. "The ball dropped. I take full responsibility. I'm the center fielder. ... We should have caught that ball. Bottom line. We have to do a better job playing defense and we will."Lincecum acknowledged that such mistakes can upset a pitcher's equilibrium. But, he added, "I don't want that to be a factor in any excuse I put out there for what went wrong in that first inning. You deal with errors and bloopers that get over infielders' heads all the time. It's a matter of how you respond to it, and I just didn't do well." Lincecum identified a lack of aggressiveness as one of his primary shortcomings. That explained his inability to put away Rollins, Pence or Victorino in the first inning after they all reached two-strike counts. Nix, who struck out and grounded out after connecting in the first inning, thought Lincecum "had his good stuff." He certainly had different stuff. Lincecum's fastball rarely climbed above 91 mph, but he said that he threw his slider, a pitch he had benched, about 20 times against Philadelphia. He's obviously trying to diversify himself. "It's about fixing it and getting it right," he said, referring to his now-frequent adjustments.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.