San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum pitching with ‘confidence and swagger’

SAN FRANCISCO -- There’s something noticeable about Tim Lincecum on the mound right now.

In the words of Giants catcher Andrew Susac: "He’s jumping around after a strikeout or making a good pitch, he’s right back up and ready to go."

And of manager Bruce Bochy: "He’s got a lot of confidence and swagger right now."

And shortstop Brandon Crawford: "I think it’s the do-rag."

Call it what you want, but Lincecum is in the midst of one of his better stretches of the past few seasons -- particularly at home. After throwing seven scoreless innings in the Giants’ 4-0 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday night, the right-hander has not allowed a run in his last 22 innings at AT&T Park. His home ERA in five starts this season is a miniscule 1.13. His season ERA is 2.08.

"We talk about rhythm a lot and that is what’s going on right now," Lincecum said. "I’ve kind of found a good rhythm on this mound here, and just trying to ride it out for as long as it is, trying to repeat it … I’ve got confidence in all my pitches, I think our plans that I am going over with my catchers is pretty good, and it’s just about executing it."

Confidence is a key for Lincecum, and when he has it, it can be visible in his demeanor between pitches. He spins off the mound after his delivery and, as was the case after a key Juan Uribe pop-up with a runner on third in the fifth Wednesday, nearly runs back to the rubber to face his next hitter.

"It’s a good thing when I have to tell Timmy to slow down, put it that way," said Susac, who caught Lincecum’s latest outing.

Bochy said he and pitching coach Dave Righetti keep track of the timing of Lincecum’s deliveries, and that Lincecum has been "really consistent" in recent outings, a good sign.

"He’s really I think kept that rhythm during this nice roll he’s been on -- especially at home," Bochy said. "One time tonight he started rushing it a little bit, but he got back on track."

Lincecum only allowed one hitter past first base. That was in the fifth, when Yasmani Grandal doubled into the gap in right-center leading off the inning and took third on a wild pitch. Lincecum, though, got Andre Ethier to ground out, Uribe to pop out and -- after he walked opposing pitcher Brett Anderson -- retired Joc Pederson on a harmless grounder to first baseman Buster Posey.

"Obviously it’s from start to start, you kind of ride whatever rhythm you’ve got that day, and for some reason here at this mound I do pretty well," Lincecum said. "And we play good defense, too, so it helps me out."

The defense was solid behind Lincecum on a night marked by intermittent, misty rain. Angel Pagan made the play of the game racing back to the center-field wall for a leaping catch of a Grandal drive in the seventh. Pagan had also kept Grandal to two bases on a ball into Triples Alley with his hustle in the fifth.

"It’s fun to watch Angel do the things that he does out there," Lincecum said. "It’s not fun as of the stress point of watching a guy hit the ball as hard as (Grandal) does. But when he’s able to track them down, keep guys honest on the bases, it saves runs."

Susac said he was impressed by the adjustments Lincecum made after the Dodgers hit him up for four runs on eight hits in four innings the last time he faced them, April 27 in Los Angeles. It’s well-known that Lincecum doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, relying more on his off-speed pitches, and the Dodgers last time may have zeroed in on that off-speed array.

Lincecum helped himself Wednesday by locating his fastball better, which kept Dodgers hitters from being able to key on the softer stuff. Susac said establishing the fastball early was a point of emphasis in their game plan.

"All his pitches were sharp, he was locating his fastball, and he was keeping them off-balance," Crawford said. "He looks confident to me. I think he’s confident to throw any pitch at any time."

And there’s that word again. Afterward, Lincecum agreed that for him, "Confidence is a big thing."

"You’ve got to trust yourself," Lincecum said. "Conviction in pitches is the one thing that gets guys out (if) you miss your spots. There’s a lot to be said about that, trusting every individual pitch and being committed to it 100 percent definitely in the moment."

Right now it’s leading to the kind of results Lincecum has rarely seen since his Cy Young days. He achieved another mini-milestone Wednesday night: When he struck out Adrian Gonzalez on a high fastball in the sixth inning, it was Lincecum’s 1,680th career strikeout, moving him past Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell for fourth all-time on the Giants’ franchise list. It’s now Mathewson (2,504), Marichal (2,281), Rusie (1,838) and Lincecum.

"Obviously in the moment it’s a pretty cool acknowledgment of what I’ve been able to do in my career, at least with my strikeouts up to this point," Lincecum said. "Obviously I’m still trying to do that better. Strikeout numbers aren’t really as up as I’d like them to be. But today is a good day for the Giants and a good day for me, so I’m going to try to enjoy it."

* The Giants’ back-to-back shutouts of the Dodgers (they won Tuesday’s series opener 2-0 behind Tim Hudson) are their first since they shut out the Dodgers in three consecutive games from June 25-27, 2012. Wednesday was also their MLB-leading seventh shutout of the season and sixth this month -- all at AT&T Park.

The pitching rotation’s ERA in May is an MLB-low 2.76. Given injuries in the starting rotation, Bochy was asked if those numbers are impressive or, even, surprising.

"It’s impressive, I mean, no getting around that," Bochy said. "Does it surprise you? No. It’s a great staff. We’ve had tremendous success with this staff. And so nothing they do surprises me."

* Anderson matched zeroes with Lincecum until the sixth when Brandon Crawford broke the tie with a two-out RBI single. It was Crawford’s team-leading 26th RBI -- and also his third hit off Anderson in the game. He’s now 12-for-29 against left-handed pitching this season, a .414 average.

"I’ve been feeling good against lefties and righties," Crawford said. "And I think that I’ve been pretty consistent with my approach at the plate. I think that along with being aggressive on a pitch that I like in the zone, that’s just been working for me."

Another notable stat: Crawford is 13-for-38 with runners in scoring position. And that, more than the overall batting average, is something that catches Bochy’s eye.

"Last year he was a very productive hitter," Bochy said. "That average number is so overrated, but you look at the runs he drove in, the big this that he got, two-out hits, he’s got that knack. Clutch hitting, it’s a thing that’s hard to measure, but he certainly has it."

Crawford hit .246 last year, and Bochy reiterated Wednesday that he "probably wore him down a few times" by playing Crawford in 153 games.

"He’s a guy you take for granted, you keep throwing him out there because of his defense and go, ‘I don’t care what he hits,’" Bochy said. "It probably took a toll on him. So I need to give him a break once in a while."

* Crawford may still be leading the Giants in RBIs. But Buster Posey is giving him a run for it -- and has now seized the team lead in home runs. Posey gave the Giants a cushion with a two-run homer off Yimi Garcia in the seventh inning -- a drive to deep left-center field that got out by a comfortable margin, despite the inclement weather. It was Posey’s seventh, and his 20th and 21st RBIs.

"Yeah, I got that one pretty good," Posey said. "I’ve hit some balls to that spot before pretty well and they haven’t gone. But I felt like that one should go."

Posey also contributed to the defensive effort. In the eighth inning, he nearly went into the Dodgers’ dugout to catch a Joc Pederson pop-up, his feet leaving the ground as he reached over the railing for a sno-cone catch.

Two things made that a particularly difficult play. For one, the swirling mists meant that Posey could hardly track the ball as he looked up to make the play.

"I saw it go up and just tried to go to the spot where I thought it was," Posey said, "and adjust from there."

Second, he was going into the opposing dugout. Were he reaching into the home dugout, he would’ve had at least a dozen voices warning him as he approached the railing. From the Dodgers’ dugout: not so much.

"It was actually, I don’t know who said it, but the ball wasn’t too far from being down and somebody said, ‘That’s a tough one!’" Posey said. "But that’s all I heard."

Posey finished a triple short of the cycle and extended his hitting streak to 12 games. He is batting .375 (18-for-48) during that stretch and raised his season average to .308.

"Buster has certainly found his swing, he’s been really consistent," Bochy said. "I just think he’s a guy -- it’s a matter of time with good hitters, they start seeing the ball and making better contact."

* Javier Lopez had a brief but nice bounce-back outing, after he walked both batters he faced in Tuesday night’s win. Bochy brought Lopez in to face Gonzalez with runners on second and third and two outs in the eighth, and Lopez got Gonzalez to ground out to a shifted Crawford, preserving the shutout. Gonzalez is now 2-for-13 in his career against Lopez with no extra-base hits.

* The Giants have won 12 of their last 15 games at AT&T Park and are now 6-2 on the season against the Dodgers -- whose division lead is down to 2 ½ games. The finale of this series is another Kershaw-Bumgarner matchup. The Giants have won the last four of those, including wins this season of 3-2 and 2-1. First pitch at 12:45 p.m.

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