Tim Lincecum was out on the mound for the San Francisco Giants in a series-deciding game on Wednesday, but it was hardly the Freak doing his thing out there.
No, that’s not just because he chopped off his signature locks over the offseason either.
While the team does have cause for celebration after winning 5-3 and taking the opening series in 2013 from the NL West divisional rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the spectre of Lincecum’s disastrous 2012 season loomed large on the mound, and new-look or not, it was something he couldn’t chase on Wednesday night.
That’s not something you’d normally say for pitcher who gave up no earned runs (two total) on just three hits with four strikeouts over five innings, but it’s exactly how you’d describe a pitcher who walked a whopping seven batters over than span.
Seven batters. Think about that for a second. Even though Lincecum has never been known as a guy with pinpoint control, that number is still a career-high for the righty.
More accurately, it ties a career-high. The last time it happened? Well, you wouldn’t have to look very far back, because it was on September 7 of the 2012 season. You know, the season where he set a career-high 4.45 BB/9 en route to a 5.18/1.47 ERA/WHIP, 1.0 fWAR year that also saw him relinquish his ace title to Matt Cain.
While there’s little doubt that Lincecum still has the stuff (batters hit just .158 off him yesterday), the that kind of generosity in handing out free bases don’t suggest that this is a pitcher who has found his Cy Young-winning form.
And you know, maybe that pitcher is forever gone. Lincecum’s fastball velocity averaged just above 90 mph on Wednesday night, and that it’s much closer to his 2012 average than the years prior is an early indication that this could be what to expect through 2013.
Maybe all that workload over his early years has taken its toll, and the Giants are just going to have to deal with a new version of Timmy that’s as talented as he is frustratingly wild.
That would hardly be a death blow for the defending World Series champs, as they do have both Cain and Madison Bumgarner to carry the load. That said, even if Lincecum is still capable of pulling out a winning performance in spite of himself from time to time, the Giants would be a much better team with the Freak back and dominating on the mound.