Confident Lincecum is hitting his spots

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Are we witnessing the revival of Tim Lincecum?

If you’re a Giants fan, you know Lincecum’s resume. Two-time Cy Young award winner. Two-time World Series Champion. Four-time All-Star. All at just 29 years old.

Drafted by San Francisco and brought up through their farm system, rooting for Lincecum is rooting for a home-grown Giant.

But then came 2012 and 2013. And with them, so many struggles for the beloved Giant.

The 2012 season saw Lincecum’s ERA balloon to a career-high 5.18. It dipped a bit in 2013 to 4.37, but was still higher than a starter’s should be.

Over the past two seasons, Lincecum has gone 20-29, a stark contrast 69-41 over his previous five seasons.

Being relegated to the bullpen for the 2012 World Series run was perhaps a bit of a wake-up call for Big Time Timmy Jim. He worked harder in the next offseason than he had before, and it paid off — some. A lower ERA and a no-hitter in July were highlights of an otherwise mediocre 2013.

But after all of that — and a surprisingly flush $35 million, two-year contract extension — the Spring of 2014 seems to have brought a revival of the right-hander’s pitching prowess.

In two Spring Training starts, Lincecum has tossed five shutout innings, walking one, striking out one, allowing three hits, and hitting one batter.

He’d previously stated that he wanted to use this pre-season to get some “crappy contact” from hitters, working through pitches without giving up runs.

On Friday against the Kansas City Royals, during the Giants 5-0 win, Lincecum did just that.

After giving up a lead-off double to Norichika Aoki, Lincecum settled in, allowing only one other hit in his three innings – an Alex Gordon single.

The Royals made good contact against the Giants righty in that first inning, but Hector Sanchez gunned down Aoki trying to steal third and Mark Minicozzi made a diving catch out of bounds to keep Kansas City off the scoreboard.

Lincecum hit Brett Hayes with a pitch two outs into the bottom of the second, but got a ground out on the next play to end the inning.

Overall, Lincecum threw 35 pitches, 26 of which went for strikes, and got what he wanted done:

“I wanted to pound the zone a little more than I did. Last game … I had a batter where I threw four straight balls, and I was really trying hard not to let that happen. Attack the zone, and even if I was behind a hitter, still try to come back and make really good pitches. So, that’s just where my mindset was at.”

Throughout his appearance Lincecum mixed in breaking pitches, throwing a solid curveball and a few sliders for first pitches.

He didn’t strike anyone out on Friday, and even though he’s known as a strikeout pitcher, Lincecum feels good about where hit pitches went:

“I had a few swing-and-misses here, which is something I’m looking for. It’d be nice to get those on the third strike, but if they take them early now, it’s still a strike, so I’m good with that. Outs are outs.”

Perhaps most impressive to Giants fans should be that Lincecum only has one walk in five innings this Spring. Last year, he led the team with 76 walks and had a 1.32 WHIP.

His effort in this offseason, however, has made him a more confident pitcher on the mound. The work that he put in during the winter months makes him feel that, even when he throws a ball or two on the mound, he knows that he can correct the location because Lincecum knows that he’s practiced.

All in all, it’s made him a much more confident pitcher come game time:

“I think I can always come back and make a good pitch and think that’s the difference between today and some of my outings the last few years was that hole just kept getting bigger … and this time I’m getting a 2-0 count or a 1-0 count, and I’m still making a good pitch to get out of the jam.”

If Lincecum feels confident on the mound, opposing batters should take note. A confident Tim Lincecum could signal struggles ahead for them, but a welcome change for Giants fans everywhere. 

Notes

Hunter Pence blasted his first home run of the Spring in the sixth inning, and Minicozzi followed it up with his second of the Spring in the ninth. … Joaquin Arias got the Giants on the board in the second inning with a sacrifice fly, scoring Mike Morse. … San Francisco starters have now allowed only one run in 23 Spring Training innings.