Lincecum plans to recapture his rhythm
Defending champs send esteemed ace to the hill for opener
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum, who almost constantly listens to music when he isn't pitching, is seeking a steady beat this year. A rhythm, if you will."Rhythm" happens to be something Lincecum mentions, or is asked about, after almost each appearance. It's his catchword for the consistency and smoothness in his pitching delivery. He has rhythm when he excels and he lacks it when he struggles. Lincecum would be the first to admit that fluctuations, not rhythm, characterized his 2010 season. He'll get his first opportunity to show that he has found a groove Thursday when the Giants open the season against their chief nemesis, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lincecum contributed mightily as the Giants surged to their World Series triumph last year. He went 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September and followed that with a 4-1 mark and a 2.43 ERA in the postseason. Lincecum not only won the opener of all three postseason rounds for the Giants, but also worked eight dominant innings in their Game 5 decision over Texas that sealed the Series victory. Those facts don't fit the profile of a pitcher searching for consistency.
However, Lincecum preceded his scintillating September with an atrocious August. The right-hander went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA that month, prompting him to re-examine his between-starts workout routine. Conditioning himself more efficiently by playing long-toss catch and renewing his emphasis on lower-body strength helped him reverse his fortunes instantly.So Lincecum worked diligently during the offseason and Spring Training with the intent of avoiding repeats of August, which was foreshadowed by a pair of mini-slumps earlier last season.
"Last year was probably the roughest year of my life, as far as going through that tough month, which was the hardest one I ever went through in baseball," he said.Lincecum still finished 16-10. Though his 3.43 ERA was his highest for a full season, he led the National League in strikeouts for the third consecutive year. The 26-year-old is convinced that he's ahead of where he was last year at this time, when he was still pitching in Minor League exhibitions at the end of spring to regain command of his pitches. "I feel physically prepared and I'm healthy, so that's good," he said. "Not having to pitch Minor League games is a plus for me." Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted feeling somewhat uncertain about Lincecum's effectiveness entering last year's opener at Houston.
"Sure I was," Bochy said. "I think we all were. I think Timmy might have been, too. Because he was working on some things, trying to get straightened out."Lincecum proceeded to dispel all concerns by working seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and walking none while striking out seven, as the Giants triumphed, 5-2. That accomplished his objective of erasing the unpleasant memory of the 2009 opener against Milwaukee, when he spent himself by throwing 78 pitches in three innings and surrendered three runs. Facing the Dodgers on Opening Day doesn't arouse Lincecum's competitiveness any more than usual.
"Obviously, it matters a lot to the fans, and it's a big rivalry between us and [the Dodgers]," he said. "But whether Opening Day is against them or in Houston, it's still Opening Day. You want to do well regardless."Last year's postseason honed Lincecum's big-game experience, which began when he started the 2009 All-Star Game for the NL at St. Louis. Then, by his own admission, he was exceedingly nervous. Now, his composure is virtually constant. "Even in the World Series, I was trying to be as normal as possible and just be myself and not worry about the situation, because you can't really control that," Lincecum said. "You don't want it to overwhelm you, which happens to a lot of people. Just try to make that a non-factor and pitch your game."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.