Outside of just the zeroes on the scoreboard, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said that watching Tim Lincecum throw eight scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night was in one key respect like seeing an extension of the right-hander’s no-hitter against the San Diego Padres six days before.
Lincecum’s trademark has always been his contortionist’s delivery. By its nature, it gives the appearance that as soon as Lincecum starts his motion he’s whipping body parts about at an especially high gear. For years, Righetti has observed this delivery both in bullpen sessions and in games, and noticed there was sometimes a difference.
“Normally when there’s no adrenaline and you’re throwing a (bullpen session), the tempo really calms down and you see some really good stuff,” Righetti said. “I’ve always tried to get him to carry that out there when the game hits and the adrenaline picks up and you want to go faster and faster. Almost every guy does it, and it affects his delivery.
“What (Lincecum’s) done the last two times is really consciously warmed up at a slower pace in terms of body speed. Instead of a whirling dervish, he’s a little slower, taking his time, making those pitches. And he’s finding himself being able to make pitches (in the game) to all the different corners of the strike zone.”
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While not an isolated event to Lincecum’s past two starts, Righetti said the difference has “been a key” to Lincecum throwing 17 consecutive scoreless innings after pitching to a 6.85 ERA in his first four starts in June. Its main effect, he said, is helping Lincecum fix a longstanding issue with locating pitches on what to him is the left side of the plate, away to right-handed hitters and inside to left-handers.
“He’s been able to get through it because he really has got a great touch and he can do things,” Righetti said. “But it’s been hard for him, to be quite honest. And I think he’s starting to see what he can do if he slows it down a little and can hit spots.”
Any change in the speed of Lincecum’s movements is likely not readily visible. Righetti himself acknowledged that Lincecum “always looks fast to me.” But he said the effects “really showed up” in the fourth inning of Lincecum’s start against St. Louis on Tuesday – an inning that manager Bruce Bochy later called a turning point in the Giants’ 5-0 win.
With the score still 0-0, the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs against Lincecum on two broken-bat hits and a two-strike fastball that hit Yadier Molina. But Lincecum struck out Allen Craig and Jon Jay – both swinging on sliders below the strike zone – and then got Daniel Descalso to ground out to second to escape the jam unscored upon.
“In the past, (that) tended to be a tough inning and a lot of pitches,” Righetti said. “But he took his time to go through that. You didn’t see the desperateness on his face. He seemed to be relaxed about it.”
Lincecum afterward said that, similar to the no-hitter, he “wasn’t afraid to go to any pitch in any count” against the Cardinals. “Things were working,” he said. “They weren’t crazy nasty or anything like that, or 93-94 (mph), but I was trying to put them in good spots.”
That confidence, catcher Hector Sanchez said later, allowed Sanchez some freedom when deciding how to pitch to Craig and Jay in the fourth. With Craig, Sanchez said, “You have to mix it up because he’s a really good hitter – he probably has one of the best inside-out swings I’ve seen.” Lincecum threw three fastballs and two sliders to Craig, and a fastball, three sliders and a changeup to Jay.
“He was working really well with his slider and the curveball, too,” Sanchez said. “And he’s commanding his fastball. … Right now the more important thing, he’s commanding his fastball down in the zone.”
When Lincecum threw his first career no-hitter last July against the Padres, he followed it with one of the worst outings of his career nine days later, allowing eight earned runs in 32/3 innings in a loss to the Reds. With his performance Tuesday night, Lincecum for the first time in his career recorded back-to-back starts of at least eight scoreless innings.
Lincecum also threw the same number of pitches (113) and strikes (73) Tuesday as in the no-hitter. For Righetti, it was an encouraging display of consistency from a pitcher who has often searched for just that in recent seasons.
“It took 148 pitches to do (the 2013 no-hitter), and he did it by pretty much throwing the same way, but he didn’t have the same command,” Righetti said. “The one the other day, it seemed more like what we were talking about.
“You had a feeling you were going to see … you don’t know about a no-hitter, but you could count on consistent stuff. And you can see that happening better than you could last year, put it that way.”