Lincecum makes ‘incredible’ MLB return

Four All-Star Game appearances. Three World Series Championships. Two Cy Young Awards.

Tim Lincecum boasts one substantial resume.

But, after nine years with the San Francisco Giants of the National League, “The Freak” now finds himself attempting a return to dominance with the AL’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Part of a new team, in a new city, the 32 year-old was penciled in for his first start with the Halos just 16 miles from his previous home park. And a large portion of his loyal fan base was in attendance to offer support.

Lincecum, who lasted 6 innings allowing just one run in his 2016 debut, received a standing ovation from many of the 25,078 in attendance upon his final departure from the mound in a 7-1 road win over the Oakland Athletics.

Of the boisterous applause, he said:

“It was pretty incredible. Not what I expected… It’s nice, obviously, being here close to where I started and having my Bay Area fans here. It definitely made it feel like a home game to me.”

“Big Time Timmy Jim” was drafted in the first round of the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft (No. 10 overall) by the Giants, the team for which he made his major-league debut almost exactly 11 months later — on May 6, 2007.

Over his nine seasons in San Francisco, Lincecum amassed a 108-83 win-loss record with a 3.61 ERA. En route to the franchise’s No. 4 spot on the all-time strikeout list (1,704), he led the Senior Circuit three consecutive seasons (2008-10). He also accrued 13 and six strikeouts in a pair of no-hitters on July 13, 2013 and June 25, 2014.

After three consecutive down seasons, however, the Giants decided to move on from their former-ace.

On June 27, 2015, the Bellvue, Washington native departed in the second inning of a 7-5 won over the Colorado Rockies after being hit in the right forearm by a batted ball. It was his last appearance in the black and orange.

The starter joked that his new color fits him just fine:

“I don’t think I look weird (in red). I think I look pretty good.”

It wasn’t a forearm injury that cut his 2015 campaign short. Instead, it was a degenerative hip issue. Having suffered from hip pain, lack of mobility and in turn a drop in velocity Lincecum underwent surgery.

On May 6, his return became a reality when he impressed at an open showcase.

After just three minor league starts Lincecum received his Angels call-up, becoming the team’s 11th starter of the season due to a rash of injuries. Regarding his performance, manager Mike Scioscia said his squad got a much needed lift from the 2009 All-Star Game starter:

“The last game he threw in Triple-A, where he got through seven innings, was very pitch-efficient. He has some of those games in him. (Today,) he had to work hard to get through those six innings … He had to use a lot of pitches to do it, and he kept making good pitches.”

Opposing skipper Bob Melvin was also complimentary, saying:

“He reads swings really well. He knows, to an extent, what you’re sitting on and when…We couldn’t solve him. Give him credit.”

The game was far from routine for the veteran, however.

After anxiety kept Lincecum from getting much sleep Friday night, he arrived at the park abnormally early — around 9:15 a.m. — hoping the nerves would calm. That didn’t happen, though; any jitters didn’t subside until after his first inning.

Part of the problem, Lincecum admitted, stemmed from the realization that he is no longer the same pitcher. He knows he doesn’t feature the “cheese” he once did — his fastball, once 95-plus, hovered around 89. He understands that his changeup, once a dominant strikeout pitch, has become a weak-contact pitch which he used for a career-high 38 percent of his throws.

Accepting his depleted stuff has been part of his maturation, and allowed him to hedge his expectations:

“I didn’t necessarily see this game going as well as it did, but it panned out and gave me a little more confidence to know that I can push through to the next game. That’s tough to accept, for a pitcher that has been through a lot and done a lot, but I’m trying to move on and become a different player.”

Moving on from the man many expect upon examining his baseball card is the key, he said, to further growth:

“You try to scratch what has been going on the last few years… Try not to dwell on the past. I’ve seen some success in the past four years, and a lot of not.”

After collecting his first major-league win in 364 days Lincecum did take away one key positive, saying he is the healthiest he has been in “three or four years.” And if he continues to prove he can be successful at the big league level he will be, at worst, an excellent trade chip as the deadline approaches.

Especially considering his 5-2 record and 2.40 ERA in 13 career postseason appearances.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.