SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Beware the Heavy Hand. Tim Lincecum warns newcomers in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse about it, like it's some apocryphal beast. Attacks with the stealth of a bee and does similar damage, too, the welt and redness stinging reminders.
"You ever see Cain's hands?" Lincecum said, motioning to his next-door locker neighbor, Matt Cain. "They're big bear paws, and they'll kill your back. And last year, he was like that big brother who picked on you a lot."
Lincecum paused to consider what he had just said.
"Except, uh, big brothers are usually older, right?"
Generally speaking, sure, though Cain's year-and-a-half head start in the major leagues rendered Lincecum 3½-month lead in life rather insignificant in baseball's cosmos.
"OK then," Lincecum said, "he's my big-ger brother."
That much is true, the husky Cain hulking over Lincecum, who seemed to forget that heroin chic died 10 years ago. And inasmuch as they're brothers like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, they are assuredly in this thing together, in the post-Bonds era of the Giants, building block Nos. 1 and 2 in the quest for credibility.
Forget Barry Zito and his $126 million contract. If the Giants stand a chance of competing in the next five years in this mandoline of a National League West – it will slice, dice and julienne – Cain and Lincecum, only 23 years old, both true potential aces, will stand at the forefront.
Though Lincecum may be rubbing Icy Hot on his back after another Heavy Hand.
"We're both immature in a ton of different ways," Cain said. "But when we're out there for work, we focus. We know this is business. Kind of time to not be 23 anymore. Let's not be those people who stand out."
Wisdom is burgeoning with Cain, meted out in little nuggets like: "You strike out guys on four pitches and it's good, but you don't want to do it on six." He's beginning to understand that a gifted arm does not equal a great pitcher, and that just because he debuted to raves at 20 years old doesn't pave a yellow-brick road to Cooperstown.
Cain's composure is well-earned. Pit bosses in Vegas should have hired him as a cooler last year. Cain went 7-16 despite a 3.65 earned-run average, the 10th best in the NL. In 12 of his starts, Cain pitched at least six innings, gave up two earned runs or fewer and was saddled with a loss or no decision.
"It's tough to do that, to sit and worry about your record," he said. "Look at us as a whole. We didn't do what we wanted. There were times I gave away games when I shouldn't have. Maybe gave up a hit to an 8-hole guy when the pitcher's coming up. There were so many games, I think, that could've gone the other way."
Maybe so, though Cain's fortune mirrored the Giants' descent to the NL West basement. Colorado and Arizona, buoyed by superb young lineups, met in the NL championship series. Los Angeles and San Diego remained relevant, their pitching staffs at least 10 strong and deep. And the Giants faded, all the way to the point they now plan on hitting catcher Bengie Molina – he of a career .411 slugging percentage – in the cleanup spot.
Thankfully, some excitement remains in Lincecum. His windup is the same, a huge mess of arms and legs, like a Swiss Army knife with the pieces splayed every which way. And there's an added element this year, a coif of black hair that peers out from the edges of his cap and makes him look positively Liverpudlian, circa '64.
Ringo never threw 99 mph, busted curveballs that drop 10 inches and supplemented each with a not-quite-there control of his pitches that caused, on occasion, one to slip a little too far inside and serve more as a pacemaker than purpose pitch.
"I'm kind of an … what's that old saying?" Lincecum said. "Effectively wild?"
Yeah. And, at times, wildly effective. Lincecum struck out 150 in 146 1/3 innings, and hitters batted .226 off him, fourth among NL starters.
"I'll throw one near someone's head, or out of the zone, then take a step back and fire a strike," Lincecum said. "It's always worked in my favor coming up.
"But I'm learning otherwise. When people ask, 'Are you gonna throw today?' I say, 'No, we're going to pitch today.' There's a difference, and I think I've come a long way. I still have a lot more room for improvement."
Not just on the mound, Cain points out.
Lincecum is, for lack of a better term, a human jukebox. Every record just happens to feature an unbearable voice.
"It was conditioning camp last year," Cain said. "I had on Sirius radio. It was just playing. I hadn't ever heard the song. And he's just singing. It's awful. I don't even know the guy, and he's singing. Usually you at least get comfortable before you sing in front of someone."
"Any time a song comes on that I know, I can't help but want to sing it," he said. "Sometimes it'll get to the point where I think I'm singing it in my head, but I'm also verbalizing it."
An Audioslave song blared in the background. Lincecum had the urge, no question, but he knew that somewhere lurked his bigger little brother, waiting with that bear paw. Lincecum, it seems, is getting wiser by the day to life in the big leagues, too.
And do the Giants ever need that.