Lincecum letting mind wander on mound

It’s May 21, and Tim Lincecum’s 6.04 ERA is almost twice as high as the next closest Giants starter, Madison Bumgarner at 3.10.

No one could have predicted that Lincecum would be the Giants’ weak link nearly two months into the season. After yesterday’s bleak four-inning outing against the weak-hitting A’s, concerns are growing about Lincecum. Everybody is trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Lincecum is still piling up the strikeouts — 53 in 47 2/3 innings — but his velocity is down and his control has abandoned him. Result? He’s extremely hittable.

Some have wondered if his mechanics are out of whack, but pitching coach Dave Righetti thinks Timmy’s mindset on the mound is causing problems. He told The Chron’s Scott Ostler:

“Almost every game has been the same in terms of when he’s had a bad inning, it’s escalated. He’s letting some things get to him that he shouldn’t. He should maintain his delivery and his poise and get outs, and he’s not doing that.”

It sounds like Lincecum has lost his killer instinct that made him so intimidating during his Cy Young seasons in 2008 and 2009. The best pitchers don’t let a hit or a walk bother them. They get back up on the mound and focus on getting the next hitter out.

Righetti added more:

“When he’s getting into situations, they’re escalating, and that’s something that can’t happen, and he let’s it affect his overall game and his persona and everything else.”

But the part of Righetti’s comments that stood out to me?

“He’s standing on the mound when base hits are in the outfield, not backing up bases. He’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”

If a lesser pitcher made that mistake, he’d be shipped out to the minors in a hurry. This kind of lapse in fundamentals is evidence of a big problem. Not only has Lincecum lost the killer instinct, but now he’s letting each hit rattle him.

With runners on base, opponents are hitting .302 against Lincecum. With runners in scoring position, opposing batters are hitting .358. That’s uncharacteristic of Lincecum. During the first five season of his career, opponents only hit .212 off his with RISP.

Righetti has his work cut out for him. He was able to get Lincecum back on track towards the end of the 2010 season, just in time for the playoffs. There isn’t the same sense of urgency since it’s just May, and the Giants are treading water even with Lincecum pitching so poorly.

The more he struggles, the more questions he’ll get from the media, and the more he will be forced to think about it.