(AP)When Tim Lincecum makes his opening day start against Arizona on Friday, he'll be taking the mound without his full arsenal of pitches.
The San Francisco Giants pitcher said on Sunday that he didn't throw a single slider in six spring training appearances.
Nor does Lincecum plan to use the pitch in the early part of his fifth full season.
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Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged the slider isn't so friendly on the elbow, and Lincecum is trying to pace himself this season.
"He just wanted to back off," Bochy said. "It's a long season and he has a lot of innings in him. It probably puts a little more stress on his arm. He probably wants to wait to break it out later."
Both Lincecum and Bochy have insisted that arm troubles are not the reason for this slider sabbatical. But I'm assuming that's not going to calm the worries of Giants fans much, even if the claims of preservation go a long way in explaining the 5.70 ERA that Lincecum posted in Arizona. (He was lit up by the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, allowing six earned runs in just under five innings of work.)
The slider, though, has been an integral part of Lincecum's repertoire since the Giants stormed their way to a World Series win. He famously increased its use after a prolonged slump in Aug. 2010 and relied on it while posting a 2.74 ERA in 2011. The pitchF/X stats on Fangraphs show that 24.1 percent of Lincecum's pitches in 2011 were sliders, compared to just 7.2 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the use of his changeup and curve dropped from 21.3 and 16.4 in 2010 to just 14.4 and 6.4 in 2011.
Lincecum will have to rely a lot more on those two pitches in the absence of the slider and maybe everything will be OK if he comes out locating his fastballs. And maybe there's no reason to worry about those spring training starts because Lincecum has never been a quick starter when the games don't count. His last two spring ERAs were 4.37 and 6.94.
Still, a fully loaded Lincecum is better than one that's lacking in the weapons department. It'll be interesting to see when he decides to go back to a well that's been great for his performance.
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