Tim Lincecum declared himself ready again for the majors and eager to join the Los Angeles Angels.
And the 31-year-old sure looked like it Sunday while back in the city that served as his launching pad to the majors nine years ago.
Could Fresno be Lincecum’s springboard to a career resurgence?
Delivering a vintage “Big Time Timmy Jim” performance, Lincecum threw seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts before an enthusiastic announced crowd of 10,192 at Chukchansi Park. The Grizzlies won 1-0 against the Salt Lake Bees.
Though Lincecum is the most dominant pitcher in Fresno franchise history after opening the 2007 season as its ace, he pitched against the Grizzlies on Sunday as a member of the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate.
These fans have been always good to me. I try to return that. I don’t take it for granted.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tim Lincecum, who on Sunday pitched against his former Triple-A club, the Fresno Grizzlies
Nonetheless, Fresno fans applauded for him the whole time – even if it meant indirectly rooting against the hometown team.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Lincecum said. “The baseball community is big here. There’s a lot of following obviously for San Francisco. It’s pretty great.
“It’s just fun to have that kind of support out here when I’m trying to remake myself.”
Lincecum didn’t top the mid-90s on the radar gun as he once did when he won back-to-back Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants.
But he remained efficient Sunday in what was his third and final tuneup in the minors, throwing a no-hitter through five innings. He finished with just one hit and one walk allowed on 89 pitches, 57 for strikes.
Lincecum has had this season delayed after he was limited to 15 games because of injury last year with the Giants then underwent hip surgery in September.
He finished his three-game “spring training” with a 2.65 ERA, 19 strikeouts and six walks in 17 innings.
2.65 Tim Lincecum’s ERA through three starts in Triple A, including seven scoreless innings against the Grizzlies on Sunday
Like his younger days in Triple-A, Lincecum’s best outing came in Fresno.
“It’s a little different,” Lincecum said of being back in the minors for the first time since 2007. “I’m in a different place. I’m not trying to make my path anymore. I’m trying to re-create it.
“I feel like the three starts I had definitely got me ready.”
Lincecum’s return brought back some fans who hadn’t been back to Chukchansi Park since the Grizzlies changed affiliates from the Giants to the Astros entering the 2015 season.
Like Tyler Valladao, a hardcore Giants fan who immediately called his friend who’s a Grizzlies season ticket holder upon finding out Lincecum was returning to Chukchansi Park.
“If Timmy’s going to be there, you bet I’m going to be there,” Valladao said. “It’s too bad he’s not with the Giants anymore.”
An Angels fan in attendance, Joseph Newton of Fresno, certainly didn’t mind Lincecum’s change of uniforms.
“I’m excited,” said Newton, who came to Chukchansi Park wearing an Angels jersey. “I think he’s got a little more juice in him. Hopefully he can contribute because we’re going to need it.”
For the majority of the Fresno crowd, though, which team Lincecum now plays for was irrelevant.
Tim Lincecum is the latest big-name major leaguer to play at Chukchansi Park, joining the likes of Randy Johnson, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chavez and Matt Cain.
Lincecum received loud applause during pre-game introductions. Fans cheered each time he induced an out, and had more energy for strikeouts.
And they stood up and applauded every frame that Lincecum returned to the dugout and came out.
“I saw him pitch behind the dugout his last game here before he joined the Giants,” said Steve Gonzales, who came to Sunday’s game with his wife, daughter and two babies. “We go to several games here every year. But definitely wanted to get in on this one.”
Lincecum joins an impressive list of high-profile major leaguers who have played at Fresno’s downtown ballpark.
Other notable major leaguers to come: five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson, six-time All-Star Nomar Garciaparra, six-time Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez, 12-time All-Star Manny Ramirez, 2002 Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito and three-time All-Star and former Giants ace Matt Cain.
But no one was as accommodating and fan friendly as Lincecum.
The four-time All Star spent nearly an hour after Sunday’s game signing autographs for every fan. He also provided autographs after each batting practice during the four-game series.
“These fans have been always good to me,” Lincecum said. “I try to return that. I don’t take it for granted.”