So many iconic moments in Tim Lincecum’s pitching career have come against a backdrop of black tinted with orange that even he acknowledged it felt different Friday putting on the red-themed uniform of the Los Angeles Angels.
“It’s bright,” Lincecum said of his warmup jacket in the visitors’ dugout at the Oakland Coliseum. Shortly before, Lincecum had arrived at the stadium to join his new team for the first time. Saturday, the former Giant and two-time Cy Young winner will oppose the A’s in his first major-league start in nearly a year.
“Definitely excited to be out here,” Lincecum said, “Nervous being with a new team and kind of just showing what I’ve got and trying to live up to my own expectations.”
And what – after hip surgery, a yearlong hiatus and three minor-league tuneup starts, for a 32-year-old right-hander who was last dominant in the majors five years ago – are those expectations?
“To be successful,” Lincecum said. “I don’t want to go out there and just roll over. I want to go out there and give my team a chance to win every day.”
Lincecum’s last major-league start came June 27 for the Giants, with whom he spent his first nine seasons, winning 108 games, two Cy Young awards and three World Series championship rings. He had surgery on his left hip Sept. 3 and spent most of this spring rehabilitating in Arizona. He signed a one-year deal in May with the Angels, who are giving him a chance to start.
Later in his tenure with the Giants, who expressed interest in Lincecum this spring as a reliever, his hip issue kept him from being able to consistently repeat his trademark acrobatic delivery. He said he felt “a little apprehensive” when he first started pitching again after the surgery, not knowing how his hip would respond. Now, though, he said he feels notably freer with his mechanics and range of motion.
“I’m able to internally rotate on my left hip, which is something that was kind of eluding me even more so from 2011 on,” Lincecum said. “Basically, getting that back lets me kind of go through my body towards home plate. I can stay on line. And even just feeling healthy gives me that trust in all my pitches, to go in any count and really throw anything I want.”
After signing with the Angels, Lincecum made three starts for their Triple-A Salt Lake affiliate. His third, in which he threw seven scoreless innings with one hit allowed and eight strikeouts against the Fresno Grizzlies on June 12, convinced Lincecum that he was ready to return to the majors.
“Tim will be the first one to say he’s not where he was four, five years ago,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “But he has plenty of fastball to be effective, and the way he can change speeds with his curveball. He has plenty. So we’re excited to see what he can do.”
“I’m not going to be the guy that’s throwing 94, 95 (mph) anymore,” Lincecum agreed. “I have to spot my fastball and trust movement. And I think that’s where I’m at, is trusting that and knowing I can get outs with 88 to 92.”
Lincecum walked into the Angels’ clubhouse at 3:50 p.m. Friday wearing a white cap on backward and an unzipped gray hooded sweater. He retains the boyish features that made him such a recognizable face of the franchise in San Francisco. He said the fact that his return to the majors is occurring in nearby Oakland “worked out coincidentally” but that he hopes Saturday’s crowd will include some who fondly remember his time as a Giant.
“I know there’s going to be some emotions he’s going to deal with,” Scioscia said, “But I think it’s going to be more excitement than anything. I think he’s very confident his stuff is at a level where he can go out and compete, and compete well if he’s making pitches.”
Lincecum said his brief return to the minor leagues was “refreshing” and “kind of opens your eyes to how special and grateful you should be as a major-league baseball player.” He said it feels like “a long time” since he last stood atop a major-league mound.
“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity to be starting back here so quickly,” Lincecum said. “It was a long time coming, but I worked really hard, and I had a team that recognized that hard work. So here we are.”