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Andy Behrens

Tim Lincecum: Injured? Unfocused? Did the gamma rays finally wear off?

Andy Behrens
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OK, so it's probably not fair to Tim Lincecum(notes) that we won't allow him to have a rough outing, ever. But he's a back-to-back Cy Young Award winner, and we tend to hold those guys to high standards.

Lincecum has tied his career high in walks (5) in each of his past three starts, and he hasn't pitched beyond the fifth inning in his last two. He allowed six hits, six runs and four stolen bases in Wednesday's loss to Washington. His average fastball this season is just 91.3 mph, three ticks below the velocity readings we're accustomed to.

The locals are concerned enough to write headlines like this:

What the heck is wrong with Tim Lincecum?

If they're asking the question, then perhaps the fantasy community should consider the issue, too. Before Lincecum's start on Wednesday, a CSN Bay Area report suggested that he was dealing with a blister on his pitching hand. Lincecum and his manager both denied the report, but the hand itself was unavailable for comment

Everyone wants answers on Lincecum. A blister would be an easy one, but he and Bochy both pooh-poohed a pregame television report that the pitcher was fighting a blister. But even as Lincecum was denying it was an issue, he kept his hands in his jacket pockets.

In fact, all recaps of the Giants' loss seemed to mention the fact that his hands were hidden from view. Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News suspects that Lincecum may not have a blister, but a recurrence of another issue:

Back in spring training, Lincecum had a cracked nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand. He even let me snap a picture of it and send it as a joke to a college buddy of mine, who was thinking of drafting Lincecum on his fantasy team. (Note to geeks, and you know who you are: This is not a public service I provide at large.)

At the time, the nail problem wasn’t serious and didn’t look too ugly. But perhaps Lincecum is dealing with the cracked nail issue again. I can’t tell you for sure, because Lincecum had both hands very conspicuously buried in the pockets of his sweatshirt while he conducted his postgame interview.

But maybe he's not really hiding anything. Maybe he was cold. Or maybe he has plush, inviting pockets. Or maybe he's sick of having reporters photograph his hands. Dunno.

There's no denying that Lincecum had control problems on Wednesday, whatever the reason. As Baggarly notes, Lincecum threw only two of 14 curveballs for strikes, and one of the stray curves hit a batter. He also struggled with command of his fastball. In the early innings the heater was 92-94 mph according to Gameday, but Lincecum dialed it down in the fourth and fifth (89-91), presumably in an effort to locate. Nothing really worked. He continued his season-long inability to prevent steals, too, as the Nats were 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts. Lincecum now leads all National League pitchers in steals-allowed (12-for-12) — no simple feat for someone who doesn't generally allow many baserunners.

Manager Bruce Bochy had a closed-door meeting with his ace on Thursday morning, and his subsequent comments suggest that he's more concerned about Lincecum's focus than his health. Here are a few highlights:

"Basically, he’s fine [physically]. Like everybody in this game you’re going to have your hiccups. And Timmy, he’s a little hard on himself, I think, at times. A little frustrated. This guy has set the bar so high that he’s tough on himself when he doesn’t pitch like he’s accustomed to. … [Lincecum] has the ability to do a good job of holding onto runners, vary his looks, sidestep and things like that. That got away from him. Got a little out of focus I think with runners on. That’s going to happen at times and as a pitcher, you learn from it. …

"There were times when he was working on his command out there, so he was trying to get the ball where he wanted it instead of letting it go. … Timmy, he’s got plenty of fastball. He was at 92 there. That’s kind of been his comfort, 91-92, which is a good fastball. What you don’t want to do is get caught in velocity, where you’re trying to add, and you lose command. I certainly don’t want him doing that. … Some of us — myself — were average players. We’re used to dealing with, you know, tough outings or at-bats, things like that. But you set the bar so high, it’s a little tougher for him, I think."

Well, that ended up being a huge block of text. Sorry. You can't be expected to read a thing like that. I'll tighten it up for you:

Lincecum is apparently not hurt, might have hiccups.

He's paying no attention to baserunners, a problem when you walk five batters and hit another.

His fastball is an easy 91-92 mph and he leads the league in Ks, so back off.

Bochy thinks of himself as an average player, which is kind of a slap in the face to players who were actually league-average.

There's no reason for serious concern here. You'll recall that Lincecum had a miserable spring (0-2, 6.94 ERA) — which panicked a few of you — then won his first four regular season games in his usual dominant fashion (1.00 ERA, 10.7 K/9). His next start is on Monday against Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), in the must-watch pitching matchup of the year. Be there.

As MLB.com's Chris Haft reminds us, no active pitcher has been more dominant than Lincecum through his first 100 games. But if you're worried about the velocity thing (which could be a non-thing), I'll happily take the Freak off your hands. I'm prepared to spend the rest of my day in trade negotiations…

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