The San Francisco Giants have admittedly removed Tim Lincecum from their starting rotation, effective immediately. The move might appear somewhat controversial on the surface, but the two-time Cy Young Award winner has been flat out awful over his previous six starts, posting a horrific 9.49 ERA.
“The Freak” will be replaced by long-reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who is on the brink of breaking Mark Buehrle‘s five-year-old record of retiring 45-straight batters. Petit would need to register the first eight outs of his start against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night to etch his name into the record book, a feat that won’t come easy.
Petit has been a rock in the Giants’ bullpen all season, posting a solid 1.84 ERA and 0.857 WHIP in 49.0 innings, but has failed to excel in six spot starts. As a starter, Petit owns a 1-2 record with a 6.32 ERA in 31.1 innings. His inability to produce as a starter forced the Giants to strike a deal for former Boston Red Sox hurler Jake Peavy before the trade deadline.
If Petit was able to consistently give the Giants a decent chance to win as a starter, like he did in 2013, it’s likely that general manager Brian Sabean wouldn’t have felt hard-pressed to cough up two highly-touted minor-league pitchers for Peavy. That said, it’s obvious the Giants need to do something about Lincecum’s ongoing struggles.
For now, Petit will serve as the stop-gap solution to Lincecum’s seeming inability to find the strike zone, although it’s highly possible that Petit won’t prove to be much better. Lincecum owns a 10-9 record with a 4.64 ERA in 2014. He’s currently stuck on 99 career wins and could potentially earn his 100th victory in relief.
At this point, the Giants are desperate. They reside five games behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and are gripping to their playoff hopes by the skin of their teeth. If Petit fails to put the Giants in an advantageous position against one of the worst teams in the National League on Thursday night, the orange and black will be inches closer to waving the white flag in 2014.
Lincecum’s struggles are a mystery, but it’s apparent that his mechanics are flawed to the nth degree. Temporarily placing Lincecum in the bullpen will give him added time to fix whatever has sunk him to the lowest point in his big-league career.
His struggles this time around began when backup catcher Hector Sanchez suffered a concussion in the third inning of an eventual 8-1 loss against the Dodgers on July 25. Lincecum had pitched three shutout innings before Buster Posey took over behind the dish. He was able to escape the fourth inning unscathed, but then allowed five earned runs in the top of the fifth.
For whatever reason, Lincecum doesn’t pitch well unless he’s throwing the ball to Sanchez. On the season, Lincecum has posted a respectable 3.20 ERA in 104.0 innings when throwing to the Giants’ backup catcher. To compare, he owns a 7.71 ERA when throwing to Posey and an 8.85 ERA when pitching to rookie Andrew Susac.
It doesn’t bode well for Lincecum that Sanchez could miss the remainder of the 2014 season after suffering a second concussion during a rehab stint with triple-A Fresno, but it’s also entirely possible for Petit to bottom out in a starting role.
Petit has allowed four or more earned runs in four of his six starts this season. His best start happened on May 31, when he pitched six innings while allowing just one earned run on two hits in a loss against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his most recent spot start, Petit allowed five earned runs in five innings of work against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 22, which was also the last time he allowed a base-runner.
For the Giants to claim a playoff spot in 2014, they need guys like Petit to be magical. He’s done that as of late out of the bullpen, but has also consistently demonstrated an inability to be effective as a starter. He won’t be any better than Lincecum was.