Four hours before the first pitch Tuesday, Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum emerged from the home dugout at AT&T Park and made his way down the left-field line, where under the supervision of pitching coach Dave Righetti, he began what amounted to a brief bullpen session, starting with the basics.
Wearing a glove, Lincecum at first went through his pitching motion without actually throwing a ball. He then walked out to about 30 feet and began playing catch, working his way back to a longer distance. After that, Lincecum headed to the bullpen mound, where he spent about eight minutes throwing pitches to catcher Andrew Susac, with Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner watching.
A day after the Giants announced they are skipping Lincecum’s next start amid his latest struggles, Lincecum remained immersed in trying to correct the mechanical issues he said have plagued him the past month.
Meanwhile, manager Bruce Bochy said Lincecum would be available in relief against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night, a confirmation of his new – if tentative – role.
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“I’m for continuing forward,” Lincecum said before the game. “If (Bochy is) making that decision, it’s up to him. He’s the one that sees it; he’s the one that makes that decision. In my mind, I’m going to go out there and battle any chance I get, whether that’s start day or in relief.
“I think they’re giving this time to get my stuff right and kind of clear my head, and just get away from the tedious nature of picking at things too much in between starts.”
There has been plenty to pick at recently for Lincecum, who in seven starts since the All-Star break has gone 1-4 with an 8.24 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .341. It forced the hand of the Giants, who plan to start Yusmeiro Petit on Thursday against Colorado instead of Lincecum.
In announcing that decision Monday, Bochy left open how many starts Lincecum will miss, and the manager reiterated Tuesday that Lincecum’s task at this point is “just trying to clean up the delivery a little bit.”
Lincecum affirmed that his recent problems have been mostly mechanical, though the results also may have worked their way into his head.
“Mechanically, I’ve been aloof here the last month or so,” Lincecum said. “I think it’s just getting back to feeling those mechanics out and feeling what my bullet points are, and what I’m going to stick to. I feel within the rhythms of the game I lose track of that.
“I try to stick to my pitch plan, but I’m not remembering the foundation of what got me here, and those are my mechanics.”
Lincecum said he studies video and pictures of his delivery trying to find the disparities between when he’s going well and when his mechanics slip.
“It’s a real small difference, but if I can feel those effort points (in my delivery) and where I’m exerting too much energy, overworking myself in my motion, then I can find a way to simplify it,” he said. “And I think this time off is going to allow me to do that.”
The frustrating part, Lincecum acknowledged, is he doesn’t have to look too far back for the good film. Beginning with his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 25, he had a stretch of five starts in which he recorded an 0.96 ERA in 371/3 innings and went 4-1.
“Consistency was something I was looking so forward to finding, and I did, (so) that it was heartbreaking to kind of fall out of it,” Lincecum said.
Now, Lincecum finds himself “just trying to get back to my head spinning in the right direction.” That goes for his body, too. Describing his work with Righetti on Tuesday, Lincecum said he was emphasizing having a consistent “line” toward home plate.
When he turns his back too much in his windup, he said, he often doesn’t open up enough toward the plate by the time his right arm begins to come forward. As a result, “My arm starts to drag, and I don’t even have a line toward where I’m trying to throw. I’m trying to guess, trying to make it up, all while trying to make quality pitches.”
It’s something Lincecum will work to address in side sessions while remaining an option out of the bullpen. Lincecum has thrived in relief before: During the postseason in 2012, he pitched 13 relief innings, allowing one run with a 17-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He said Tuesday that in the condensed atmosphere of a relief outing, “I think it’s easier just to leave it out there.”
Still, this is not where Lincecum or the Giants envisioned him being as the calendar turns to September, with the Giants fighting for their postseason hopes. And while the length of Lincecum’s move to the bullpen has been left undetermined, many have seized upon the news as the latest stage in the right-hander’s demise from his Cy Young days.
“It’s always difficult, just because you don’t want to be in this position,” Lincecum said. “But now that I find myself in it, I’ll try to work out of it.
“It’d be bad to take this as a negative, because I’m still going to be able to pitch. So, try to steer it in that direction.”