It wasn’t easy to figure out what was broken about Tim Lincecum during the San Francisco Giants‘ stretch run to the National League pennant and the World Series title when a two-time Cy Young Award winner was KO’d from the rotation and took refuge in the bullpen.
This seemed to be a case more of baseball being a humbling game than of a player being sidetracked by injury, so as his team zoomed on without him (except for those bonus cameos in relief during the Series) it was a little bit sad to watch.
From the start of his career Lincecum was electrifying–and unexpected–his long, brown hair flapping in the breeze, his youthful, engaging manner charming reporters as he struck out a disproportionate share of batters. There was some criticism that his mechanics were lousy and that he was going to get injured if he stuck to his form. But how do you change the motion of a pitcher who is throwing better than anyone else in the league?
Then there were some ahas out there when Lincecum struggled last season, his earned run average taking off like a rocket to the moon as batters achieved vengeance for the way he had been embarrassing them not long beforehand.
Left out of the starting rotation for the playoffs by manager Bruce Bochy, Lincecum came through in relief when his team needed him, slamming the door on offenses when beckoned. He was a contributor when the Giants won it all and that offered hope that whatever had gone wrong had been banished to the past as old news.
It wasn’t quite as simple or neat as that and Linecum did not inspire maximum confidence in spring training. However, his last couple of outings he has started looking like the original Tim Linceum and there was hardly a better model available on the market than that.
Is Lincecum all of the way back to being Tim Lincecum? Too soon to say. He might be. There is still worry that he isn’t as consistent as he was and that his motion breaks down at his release point, but as he proved in a recent game against the San Diego Padres he can still bring it and master batters. It’s just not clear yet if he can do it game after game the way he used to do it.
Lincecum is 2-0 and his ERA is down to 3.97 after a shaky start. It’s not as if he is old. Rather, at 28, going on 29 in June, he should be in his prime. This is a guy who is only 5-foot-11 and weighs 175 pounds (earning the nickname The Freak), but with three straight NL strikeout titles on his resume.
Indeed, for such a young pitcher Lincecum is extremely well-decorated as a member of two World Series champs and four All-Star teams. Before the 2012 season he lost considerable weight after giving up his favorite hamburger joint, but there is no indication that drastic move helped him since he had the worst year of his career, so maybe he is pigging out in burger heaven again.
If Lincecum had a muscle tear he could have had surgery. If he had broken a bone he could have been healed in a cast. There were no such specific definining moment. For the most part Lincecum just looked as if he lost it. Being on, being at your best, resuming where you left off, all involve intangibles such as confidence.
It didn’t seem to make much sense that Lincecum finished 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA last year. There’s no telling what kind of job that did on him mentally. But if he comes out and puts up another few starts in a row that are impressive there’s a chance he could put all of the bad news behind him.