Tim Lincecum keeping spot in rotation is a non-starter

This is my Tuesday column.

What a fall.

We thought Tim Lincecum was a future Hall of Famer. A lock. Now he’s not even a lock to stay in the Giants’ starting rotation. Far from it.

The man twice won the Cy Young Award by the age of 25 and threw a 95-mph fastball. He couldn’t control it, but he didn’t have to — it was 95. Here it is. Try to hit it. Now, it’s only 87 mph and Lincecum still can’t control it. Big problem. The catcher sets up down and away, the ball drifts up and in. Lincecum’s phlegmatic fastball misses the target by a foot.

So Lincecum doesn’t want to throw it. Tries to work around it. This season, fewer than half of his pitches have been fastballs. The season he won his first Cy Young — 2008 — more than 65 percent of his pitches were fastballs.

Lincecum has become a junk pitcher. He wants to throw curveballs, sliders and changeups — pitches that break below the strike zone. Pitches that bounce in the dirt. Pitches that make batters swing and miss.

One major league batting coach said he instructs his hitters not to swing early in the count against Lincecum. He told them to wait.

Lincecum likes to get ahead early and force batters to chase his junk the rest of the at bat. But Lincecum can’t control his fastball. So if the batter doesn’t swing, Lincecum falls behind and one of two things happens: He hangs a breaking ball and it gets crushed, or eventually issues a walk.

That’s what happened Sunday night against the Dodgers. Lincecum tried to establish his fastball in the bottom of the first, and walked the third batter of the game — Justin Turner. Next batter, Lincecum gave up a single, and Turner ran to third base. Next batter, Lincecum threw a fastball 5 feet over catcher Andrew Susac’s head. The ball skipped to the backstop and Turner scored from third.

Lincecum gave up on his fastball at that point and started throwing breaking balls almost exclusively. Which got him out of the first inning. Dodgers left fielder Alex Guerrero chased a breaking ball for out No. 3.

In the bottom of the second, the Dodgers hitters sat on Lincecum’s breaking pitches. They waited for him to hang one, and then they crushed it. Checkmate. The Dodgers smacked five hits off Lincecum in the second before Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy pulled him. It was the shortest start of Lincecum’s career — just an inning and a third.

Lincecum can forget the Hall. That dream is over. He has to deal with the reality of being just another guy. Just another struggling pitcher hanging onto a job in the Major Leagues.

Sunday may have been Lincecum’s final start with the Giants. He’ll be a free agent after this year, and it’s hard to imagine the Giants re-signing him considering how poorly he has pitched recently. His ERA is 7.00 his past six starts.

His next scheduled start is Saturday at home against the Colorado Rockies, but he probably won’t make it. Jake Peavy, who has missed the entire season with a bad back, is healthy and ready to pitch. He has to take someone’s spot, and Lincecum is the obvious choice.

Peavy can’t replace Madison Bumgarner — duh. He can’t replace Chris Heston, the rookie who threw a no-hitter on June 9. And he can’t replace Tim Hudson, the vet who gave up just two runs in his most recent start.

The only way Lincecum makes his start on Saturday is if Peavy takes Ryan Vogelsong’s spot in the rotation instead, which is possible. Vogelsong has struggled this season. He was supposed to be a reliever, anyway. He’s starting only because Peavy and Matt Cain were injured.

Like Peavy, Cain is close to returning. If Peavy takes Vogelsong’s spot, Cain will take Lincecum’s spot in about a week. One way or another, Lincecum has reached the end of his rope.

As long as the Giants’ starting pitchers stay healthy, Lincecum probably will spend the rest of the season rotting in the bullpen. He isn’t suited for relief. Relievers put out fires — Lincecum starts them. He’s a full-on arsonist. He’s the last reliever the Giants would use.

If Lincecum can’t start or pitch in relief, what in the world can he do?

What a fall.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

This article has 23 Comments

  1. Tim has had a few rough games this season, i will grant, and i didn’t read your entire article. It does remind me of the reaction to Alex Smith in that all was doom and gloom.

    In reality, though, Tim Lincecum has changed his style and has to get used to it. It doesn’t involve throwing fastballs past hitters the way he was. Was he bad yesterday? Yes. Is he going to be bad every game? He’ll be very good this year, just not perfect.

  2. They’ve hung on to Timmy WAAAAAAAY too long.
    I understand about players being ‘fan favorites’…but geez!

    1. I have no problem rooting for Timmy even if he is a Seahawks fan.
      Shoot I root for Kap and he is a Dolphins fan.

      1. I agree TigersFan. I don’t care what team a guy roots for as long as he gives it his all for the team he is on.

  3. Lincecum is in the same boat as Barry Zito was. No velocity to bail him out with a fastball when falling behind and when command goes south it’s a walk or batting practice for hitters..

  4. Sometimes, the end of an athlete’s career arrives in a cruel manner.
    If this the end of the line for Lincecum as a SF Giant, then I wish him well.
    Thanks for the memories, Timmy, on a particular night against the Rangers, you were magnificent.

  5. *sigh* With statements like this:

    “As long as the Giants’ starting pitchers stay healthy, Lincecum probably will spend the rest of the season rotting in the bullpen. He isn’t suited for relief. Relievers put out fires — Lincecum starts them. He’s a full-on arsonist. He’s the last reliever the Giants would use.”

    I’m sure you get why many think you’re an antagonistic punk in bay area sports media.

    You conveniently forgot to mention that Lincecum has had some good outings and successfully worked as a long reliever in the 2012 playoffs. Like it’s no big surprise that Lincecum is hit and miss (okay mostly hit if you’re the Dodgers on Sunday) with his pitching performances since..I dunno all the way back to midway through 2011? So other than your speculative snark about who Peavy and Cain may be replacing…what have you added to the conversation?

    and his ERA over all for the year is 3.86…so let’s not just conveniently forget about the good games he’s pitched just to make a point.

    1. AFFP,


      Who asked you, Grant? do you enjoy hammering athletes as much as it seems? Like your comment that you like to see bad free throw shooters noses “rubbed in it” when they miss hack a shaq FT’s. Nice bitterness.

    2. He doesn’t have nearly the same stuff he had back in 2012, and he was off to a very good start but been mediocre-to- poor the last 5 or 6 starts. And even many of his best starts he had high pitch counts and couldn’t go more than 5 innings. With Peavy and Cain, they might not have the dazzling 5-inning shutouts, but 3-4 runs in 7 innings is better for the bullpen…

      1. Lincecum’s fastball was slowing down even by the middle of 2010. Remember in his Cy Young years he was a mid 90’s (sometimes upper 90’s) fastball pitcher with a brutal change up. In the middle of 2010 the wheels started to rust. He scuffled badly in mid July and August of that year. His fastball was mostly down to 90-92, still effective but no longer a a sure fire knock out combo with his change up…again very effective but not 2008/09 unhittable. His killer pitch that saved going into September and the playoffs him was a slider he picked up (from maybe Cain?). The wheels were rusting on Lincecum even more so at the start of 2011. He battled his way through it for a while but he wasn’t an ace pitcher anymore. By 2012 the wheels had come off and he was the high 80’s (occasionally low 90’s) fastball pitchers that has been trying to turn himself into precision pitch for contact pitcher ever since. sometimes he has it. sometimes he doesn’t. he’s no ace but he’s still a decent 4 or 5 man in the rotation (sub 4 ERA). maybe he could do a better job of keeping his head and mechanics together in shorter outings from the bullpen? But then Vogy’s outing last night is going to make the decision tough on who to take out of the rotation. Like Lincecum, Vogy sometimes has his fastball command and sometimes doesn’t.

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