After laboring through a forgettable first half, it remains to be seen how Tim Lincecum will respond over the season's final few months.
A matchup with the major league-worst Houston Astros could be just what he needs to get going.
Lincecum takes the mound Saturday night looking to stay undefeated in this series as the San Francisco Giants continue a three-game set with the Astros, losers of 11 in a row on the road.
Owner of baseball's highest ERA among qualified starters, Lincecum (3-10, 6.42 ERA) hasn't looked anything like the pitcher who won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2008 and '09. Lincecum is 1-8 since May 9, a stretch during which opponents have hit .276 against him.
The right-hander was especially bad in his final two outings before the All-Star break, allowing a combined 14 runs while lasting 3 1-3 innings in each. He gave up six runs and seven hits during Sunday's 13-2 loss at Pittsburgh.
"You never want to say, 'Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that," Lincecum said. "But when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what happens, happens."
Manager Bruce Bochy didn't deny reports that Lincecum could be skipped down the line if his struggles continue.
"I don't want to put added pressure on him, but sometimes you have to do what's right," Bochy told the team's official website. "I think Timmy's going to bounce back and have a better second half. We certainly need him."
Lincecum has to like his chances of getting on track given his history against Houston. Lincecum, 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA lifetime in this series, has compiled a 0.30 ERA during a four-start winning streak against the Astros. He hasn't, however, faced them since 2010.
After entering the break loser of seven of nine, San Francisco (47-40) got back to its winning ways Friday with a series-opening 5-1 victory. Madison Bumgarner threw seven strong innings while Buster Posey hit a two-run homer.
The Astros (33-54), meanwhile, were handed their 11th defeat in 12 games overall and 11th straight as the visiting team.
Houston has been outscored 65-24 during that skid and dropped 24 of 28 in opposing ballparks. The Astros haven't lost 12 straight on the road since closing their 1996 road schedule with an 0-12 record.
Saturday's scheduled starter Lucas Harrell (7-6, 4.56) can't seem to get things together on the road, either. The right-hander is 5-1 with a 1.99 over seven home starts but has allowed 24 runs over 22 2-3 innings in his last four outings away from Minute Maid Park.
In his final start before the break, Harrell gave up five runs and nine hits over five-plus innings during an 8-7 loss at Pittsburgh on July 3.
"I felt like I threw the ball great today," said Harrell, who matched a career best with nine strikeouts. "There at the end, everything kind of (fell) their way."
Harrell has never faced the Giants.