Tim Lincecum may have led the San Francisco Giants to the city's first World Series title in 2010, but that isn't buying him any benefit of the doubt two years later.
Manager Bruce Bochy announced before Sunday's NLDS Game 2 against the Cincinnati Reds that the former ace will be pitching from the bullpen for the rest of the series. Ryan Vogelsong will start Game 3 when the series moves to Cincinnati on Tuesday and either Barry Zito or Matt Cain would presumably take the ball for Wednesday's Game 4, if necessary.
That left the two-time Cy Young winner to sit in the bullpen with Sergio Romo & Co. while waiting for an opportunity. It came later in the night with Lincecum pitching two scoreless innings (the sixth and seventh) in the 9-0 loss that put the Giants on the brink of elimination.
Here's what Lincecum had to say about the news before the game (via the San Francisco Chronicle):
"My reaction is, I know what to prepare for now," he said. "I'll go in with that mindset today. Whatever they want me to do. That's really all I can do. I don't make up the lineup. As much as I'd like to start, I don't have that say. (Bruce Bochy) is the one making the decisions. That's what he's there for, and I'm all for that. Any position I can be in to help the team, whether that's coming out of the bullpen or making a long relief appearance or anything, it doesn't really matter to me."
Lincecum's reaction was a diplomatic one, but you really have to wonder how he feels privately. Or how his father feels, for that matter. Chris Lincecum made headlines earlier this season saying the team and town was "crucifying" his son when it was rumored that Lincecum's struggles might land him in the minors.
"Here's a two-time Cy Young winner, a four-time All-Star, a World Series champion, and send him to the minors?" Chris Lincecum said in June. "You do that, and what you're basically telling the player is, 'We don't need you or respect you.' And this is the kid who helped bring a championship to the city of San Francisco for the first time in over 50 years?"
Being assigned to bullpen work isn't as bad as a minor-league assignment, of course. Heck, we saw how valuable Mat Latos was to the Reds in Game 1 when Johnny Cueto's first-inning injury forced the Game 3 starter into action starting in the third. But it has to be an ego sting when Lincecum went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA over five postseason starts (and 37 innings) in 2010.
Lincecum wasn't as bad in the second half of 2012 as he was in the first. He compiled a 7-5 record with a 3.83 ERA after the All-Star break and I figured that'd be enough for the Giants to give him a starting nod in the postseason. Especially considering that Vogelsong had his share of struggles during the second half.
Bochy's decision, however, looks like it came down to recent starts. Vogelsong finished relatively strong against the Padres and Dodgers, giving up one run across three starts and 17 innings. Lincecum ended with 11 earned runs across two starts against Arizona and San Diego. His final ERA of 5.37 was the worst of any National League pitcher who qualified for the ERA title.
Bochy said picking Vogelsong over Lincecum was "the right thing to do."
"It's not easy," Bochy told reporters of the decision. "You go back to 2010 with (Barry Zito) not pitching in the postseason, not even being on the roster," Bochy said. "It's not an easy decision, but we're in agreement this is the way to go with the way things are at right now. I think it's fair to say it's been an up and down year for Timmy. He's battled himself at times, his delivery and command. It's been a fight for him all year."
The cynical side of me says the Giants see value in putting Lincecum in the pen since it'll be a point to use against him in contract talks when he becomes a free agent after 2013. But the truth is that the Giants already have plenty of ammo to use in an argument against Lincecum's worth. He'd be in the rotation if Bochy thought it gave his team the best chance to win and Lincecum's inconsistency just can't guarantee that right now.
All Lincecum can do right now is pitch from the bullpen and hope for a chance to reprove himself if San Francisco can stage a huge comeback to reach the NLCS. What a strange sight to see.