SAN FRANCISCO – Take away the one perplexing bad inning in which things just seemed to unravel, manager Bruce Bochy said before Saturday's game, and Tim Lincecum pitched well in his first three starts this season. On Saturday, that inning might have been the third but for one pitch that was the crux of Lincecum's best outing so far in the Giants' 2-0 win over the San Diego Padres.
With two outs in a scoreless game, an infield single gave the Padres the bases loaded for Chase Headley, the league's top RBI man last season.
Lincecum fell behind in the count 3-1. In a fastball count, to one of only four players who have homered three times off him in their career, Lincecum reared back and delivered a fastball.
"To myself I was thinking, I'm not going to walk this guy," Lincecum said. "I've got to challenge this guy, be aggressive, and that's what I was thinking all day – I'm not going to try to nitpick around these guys like I have in the past."
The 91-mph fastball bored in on Headley's hands and jammed him, resulting in a weak grounder to second baseman Marco Scutaro that ended the inning.
Lincecum retired nine of the next 10 hitters he faced, ultimately departing with two outs in the seventh and the shutout intact.
"He made a great pitch there to get out of it," manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's what good pitchers do – that's what they have to do to stay away from that big inning."
Lincecum came close to finishing the seventh but walked catcher John Baker with a man on first after getting ahead 0-2. Lincecum left to a standing ovation and handed the ball to Jose Mijares, who got pinch hitter Mark Kotsay to fly out to Hunter Pence.
Santiago Casilla coaxed a double play to end the eighth, and Sergio Romo got the save in his first appearance in nearly a week with a perfect ninth.
The 6 2/3 shutout innings were something Lincecum recorded just twice last season in 33 starts, and not since July 14 against the Astros.
The Giants are 4-0 in Lincecum's starts this season. Last year, it took until June 27 for them to win four games he started.
Lincecum struck out a season-high eight and allowed four hits, all singles.
Throwing to Buster Posey for the first time this season, Lincecum worked quickly and attacked hitters early, often getting first-pitch strikes with off-speed pitches the second and third time through the Padres order.
"He had good command tonight, a good fastball, and he had the other pitches going with it," Bochy said. "More than anything, he just got in a good rhythm, hit his spots, and that's what Timmy's been doing except for the one inning that's gotten away from him."
Posey said Lincecum had a great tempo from the start of the game.
Lincecum attributed that partly to Posey, who last caught him in a regular-season start last August 15.
"You get a rhythm out there as a pitcher, you're not shaking too many times, you know that the catcher's on the same page as you," Lincecum said. "It's not even a question of what he puts down. It's just where he's going to put it and you're like, yep, here we go."
Lincecum said that was the case with the 3-1 fastball to Headley.
Contrast that with Pablo Sandoval's at-bat in the fourth, which accounted for the game's only runs. Facing hard-throwing Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner, Sandoval fouled off four two-strike pitches before wheeling on a 96-mph inside fastball for his third homer, a two-run shot.
"I'd hate to have to call pitches to him," Posey said. "It looked like he was beat on three or four pitches, and then he turned on 96 on the black of the inside corner."
Sandoval fouled a pitch off his right ankle in the seventh and came out after finishing the at-bat. But he was in good spirits after the game, and Bochy said he was fine – just sore.