Tim Lincecum said he did not sleep well on the eve of his return to the majors. The Angels right-hander “woke up a few times, just thinking about the game, and what my expectations were of it, and what it was going to mean to me.”
Lincecum was at the Oakland Coliseum by about 9:15 a.m. Saturday, his manager Mike Scioscia noted, early for a pitcher starting a day game. He sat at his locker near the back corner of the visitors’ clubhouse. He went over his pitch plan against the A’s with Angels catcher Carlos Perez and pitching coach Charles Nagy. At times, he appeared engrossed in a soccer match on one of the clubhouse TVs.
“Trying to get the nerves to dissipate,” Lincecum said. “Obviously that didn’t happen.”
The nerves accompanying Lincecum’s first appearance in a major-league game in nearly a year, he said, did not begin to go away until after he had pitched a scoreless first inning. He then followed it with five more innings in which he allowed one run in Los Angeles’ 7-1 victory, earning the win in his Angels debut.
It was pretty incredible. I wasn’t expecting that. But they came out today and showed their support. It’s nice, obviously, being close to where I started and having my Bay Area fans here. It definitely made it feel like a home game.
Tim Lincecum, Angels pitcher on his reception at the Coliseum
Making his first major-league start since last June 27, the former Giant and two-time Cy Young Award winner was greeted warmly by an announced crowd of 25,078, more than a few in No. 55 Giants jerseys. Lincecum drew loud cheers when his name was called during pregame introductions and again as he emerged from the dugout in the middle of the first inning, walking slowly, then hopping across the first-base line and jogging to the mound.
Over six innings, Lincecum held the A’s to four hits and one run, which scored on Danny Valencia’s two-out, broken-bat single to center field in the third inning. When Lincecum left the field after throwing his 98th and final pitch, inducing a lineout from Jed Lowrie to end the sixth, many in the crowd stood and applauded.
“It was pretty incredible,” Lincecum said of the reception. “I wasn’t expecting that. But they came out today and showed their support. It’s nice, obviously, being close to where I started and having my Bay Area fans here. It definitely made it feel like a home game.”
Lincecum’s fastball, which once exploded into the high 90s, hovered between 88 and 90 mph Saturday. But he used that, his familiar changeup and an occasional breaking ball to repeatedly induce poor contact from the A’s hitters. He recorded just two strikeouts but got nine of his 18 outs via ground balls.
“I thought he had the same movement, the good splitter, the hard splitter down,” Lowrie said. “That’s all I saw from him, didn’t see the breaking ball. But I thought he was the same guy, just minus a little (velocity).”
Lincecum admitted as much, saying with a grin he’s “not pumping the cheese anymore like I used to.” But he said he feels physically better than he has in “a few years,” after having arthroscopic surgery on his left hip last September. Before, the instability of his left hip – the plant side for his high-energy delivery – often left him falling over the leg, which affected his command. Now, he said, his delivery is “not as erratic.”
The third inning Saturday threatened to derail Lincecum. He allowed a one-out single to Billy Burns and walked Stephen Vogt with two outs before Valencia’s single on a 3-0 pitch. Lincecum then hit Khris Davis with a fastball, loading the bases but got Lowrie to ground out to first baseman C.J. Cron to end the inning. Lincecum did not allow another hit and retired nine of his final 10 batters.
“He reads swings really well,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He knows to an extent what you’re sitting on and when. He pitched a little bit backward, threw some fastballs in some breaking ball counts, threw a lot of breaking balls in fastball counts. We couldn’t solve him. Give him credit.”
After the first inning, Lincecum said, his return to a major-league mound “kind of felt like riding a bike again – you get in the rhythm of the game and work from there.” Now that his first start is over, he can settle into the routine of pitching every fifth day as he tries to reestablish himself as a major-league starter, if not the Tim Lincecum of old. His next scheduled start is Thursday in Anaheim – against the A’s.
“I didn’t necessarily see this game going as well as it did,” Lincecum said. “But it panned out and kind of gave me a little more confidence knowing I can push through the next game. I know it’s tough to kind of accept, for a pitcher that’s been through a lot and done a lot. But like I’ve said, I’m trying to move on and trying to become a different player.”