SAN FRANCISCO -- In 229 career regular-season starts before Friday, Tim Lincecum had issued at least six walks and earned the win exactly once -- his first start last season against the Dodgers.
That time, he walked seven in five innings. Friday night against the Twins, he issued six in six innings while throwing 57 strikes and 55 balls -- an unenviable ratio that, thanks to some serious escape artistry, didn’t stop Lincecum from improving to 4-3 on the season in a 6-2 Giants win.
"I can’t remember the last start where I had more balls than strikes going into the sixth inning, and I had a win," Lincecum said afterward. "You’ve got to battle when you don’t have your best stuff or best command, and today was just that. … Ultimately it was kind of an ugly win for me, but I’ll take it."
Lincecum’s first pitch of the game was hit off the wall for a double by Brian Dozier, but he then caught Dozier leaving second base early on a steal attempt. He walked two hitters with one out in the second, but struck out Aaron Hicks and opposing pitcher Kyle Gibson to escape that jam. He struck out Dozier to strand two more walks in the fourth.
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Outside of the third inning, when Joe Mauer tripled to drive in Dozier and then scored on a groundout, Lincecum navigated a night when his command was simply not there.
The inconsistency in that area is troubling -- Lincecum acknowledges that’s something of his Achilles’ heel and he still isn’t showing the ability to locate his pitches regularly from one start to the next. On the other hand, Lincecum has a 3.38 ERA in his last eight starts, and the Giants are now 7-3 when he takes the ball this season.
"He was bobbing and weaving out there the whole game," Bochy said. "That’s a lot of pitches, and the ball-strike ratio was not good, but the kid found a way to make pitches when he had to. You take it, six innings and two runs."
Lincecum benefited from several nice defensive plays and the Giants continuing to flash their newfound home run power. Pablo Sandoval staked Lincecum to a three-run lead in the first inning with his shot to right field off Gibson, and Brandon Hicks hit his eighth homer of the season in the fourth.
Lincecum said the early cushion provided by Sandoval "always helps," and said he felt good about posting a shutdown inning in the second, despite the two walks.
"I know it was kind of a sketchy inning with runners on base," he said, "but still managed to keep it a zero, and that’s huge when you can score three runs that early."
They were all sketchy until the sixth, Lincecum’s lone 1-2-3 inning of the night. But the Giants were satisfied with the result.
"Like I said, it was one of those games where I had to battle," Lincecum said. "And I’ll take two runs after six innings in a game like that."
* Sandoval’s homer -- a no-doubter into the arcade in right on a first-pitch fastball from Gibson -- was his third in his last five games and fifth of the season. The season line still isn’t too pretty -- Sandoval has a slash line of .225/.280/.376 -- but it’s a lot better than where Sandoval was two weeks ago -- .171/.250/.276 at the close of business May 9.
"Just glad Pablo’s getting going," Lincecum said. "It’s fun to watch."
Bochy reiterated that Sandoval’s at-bats of late have "been a lot better," and that the third baseman is now barreling up pitches that he was missing earlier in the season. The homer was a good example, a first-pitch mistake from Gibson that Sandoval jumped on.
"I was ready to hit," Sandoval said. "I was ready to get a good pitch. … I think it was a mistake, but I’ll take it."
* With the two home runs Friday night, the Giants now have 57 in their first 49 games. Last year, they totaled 107 in 162 games.
Of those 107, they hit 44 at AT&T Park. They’re already almost halfway to that total -- Hicks’ solo shot gives the Giants 21 so far at home.
"Every guy in the lineup, bench guys, they’re coming to swing the bat," Sandoval said. "We’re aggressive in those situations."
* Sandoval might not have hit with two on in the first if not for some heady baserunning by the Giants. After Angel Pagan’s led off with a double and took third on a wild pitch, Hunter Pence hit a chopper to third and beat out what should have been a routine play as Trevor Plouffe hesitated to make sure Pagan wasn’t breaking for home.
Buster Posey then hit a grounder to third and Plouffe threw to second to start a potential double play, but his throw pulled the second baseman Dozier off the bag. Dozier threw home to catch Pagan trying to score, but Pagan got in a rundown long enough for Pence to take third and Posey to reach second.
"We probably get a break because (Dozier) had to come off the bag," Bochy said. "But Angel did a great job on a couple things in that inning."
Sandoval’s blast scored both runners anyway. Pagan, though, keyed another small rally in the third, when he led off with a triple and scored on a grounder to shortstop by Pence.
* Jean Machi earned a save by entering with two and one out in the eighth and getting pinch hitter Josmil Pinto to ground into an inning-ending double play, then finishing the game with a perfect ninth. Machi needed just 13 pitches to get five outs. His ERA for the season in 23 appearances: 0.37.
"He’s got swing and miss stuff, and you can see he’s got the ability to induce a ground ball," said Posey. "He’s a big weapon."
Also of bullpen note: Jeremy Affeldt pitched a scoreless seventh but was replaced by Javier Lopez to start the eighth despite the fact the Twins had a left-hander, Jason Kubel, scheduled to lead off.
Bochy said the move was made with future games in mind: By not going out to start another inning and possibly run up his pitch count, Affeldt is available for Saturday, along with Lopez and -- because he was so efficient -- Machi.
Bochy said he has to be conscious now of how to bridge the seventh and eighth innings differently with set-up man Santiago Casilla down with a hamstring injury.
* With the win, the Giants are now one of three teams in the majors with 30 wins, joining the Milwaukee Brewers and the Oakland A’s. Not a bad time to be following baseball in the Bay Area.
* The Twins flip-flopped their starters for the final two games of the series. So it’s going to be Ricky Nolasco on Sunday and right-hander Samuel Deduno (1-2, 3.53) tomorrow against the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong (2-2, 3.62). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.