It might not make total sense to think that Tim Lincecum‘s battery mate was the concrete difference-maker for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, but “The Freak” has struggled like never before since Hector Sanchez was concussed in the third inning of an eventual 8-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 25. The San Francisco Giants have been out of sorts in deciding what to do with Lincecum, but a decision is coming.
Did Sanchez truly make that big of a difference for Lincecum? The numbers tell the story, and for whatever reason, Lincecum’s personal backstop impacts his ability to compete at a high level.
Lincecum has survived six innings just once over his previous six starts, spanning Sanchez’s absence. He’s allowed at least four earned runs in four of those six starts while failing to get out of the fifth inning in any of them.
Lincecum’s struggles have been well-documented over the course of the past three seasons, including this one. He’s hurting the Giants like never before though, reportedly admitting that, “I really screwed [the Giants] over,” after his latest dud against the National League-leading Washington Nationals on Saturday.
The enormous struggles Lincecum has faced over the past month have come after one of the best stretches of starts in his career, highlighted by his second-career no hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 25.
From the date of the no hitter to July 11, Lincecum was straight up dominant, showing signs of a successful transformation that would allow him to live up to the two-year, $35 million deal the Giants inexplicably signed him to last offseason. During that stretch, Lincecum allowed just one run in 30.1 innings of work, out-dueling Clayton Kershaw during that span to record a gaudy 0.30 ERA.
“The Freak” was back — so it seemed. His ERA since Sanchez exited on July 25 is an ugly 7.63.
The biggest difference in Lincecum’s run at re-establishing himself in comparison to his ongoing struggles is command. When Lincecum is right, he’s able to effectively spot his fastball, which now ranges from 89-91 mph, on the lower outer-half of the plate. Spotting the two-seamer below the knees enables him to mix his other pitches to keep hitters off balance, and use off-speed stuff below the strike zone to generate swings-and-misses.
He simply hasn’t been able to demonstrate a consistent ability to throw his fastball for a strike. The corresponding effect has been devastating for the Giants.
Lincecum’s struggles aren’t entirely linked to Sanchez’s absence, but it’s apparent there’s something about the Giants’ backup catcher that makes the former ace click.
As Lincecum sits on 99 career wins, manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have a difficult decision to make: skip Lincecum’s next start in favor of Yusmeiro Petit, who has retired 38 consecutive batters in relief, or chance losing another game in the midst of a pennant race because of Lincecum’s inefficiency.
Lincecum is on the verge of receiving the Barry Zito treatment that Bochy employed during the 2012 stretch run, when Zito’s leash was about as long as a beef jerky stick. He deserves a chance to win his 100th career game in front of the fans who adore him against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park on Thursday night. But if Lincecum shows command issues early on, a permanent change for the remainder of the season might become necessary.
The Giants are gripping to their playoff hopes by threads. Running Lincecum to the mound every fifth day has dampened those chances, and No. 55 knows it.
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