One bad start in April is no big deal. Two rough outings to start the season can be excused for a proven veteran and former Cy Young Award winner.
But the San Francisco Giants have to be concerned about ace Tim Lincecum after the talented right-hander failed to make it out of the third inning on Wednesday in Colorado.
Lincecum gave up six earned runs on eight hits while striking out three and walking two — all in 2 1/3 innings, for the shortest start of his career. He threw 76 pitches before giving way to the bullpen, which promptly gave up another 11 runs as the Rockies mashed their way to a 17-8 win.
Lincecum’s opening day loss at Arizona, in which he gave up five runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings wasn’t much better, leaving the pitching-heavy Giants scratching their heads.
“Just sloppy baseball for me,” Lincecum said. “Just sloppy baseball for me. Not really executing pitches, missing a lot, and it’s going to hurt you, especially in this park.”
The five first-inning runs Lincecum has already allowed this season are only three fewer than he gave up in 33 starts in 2011, as The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman points out.
A closer look at Lincecum’s outing at Coors Field reveals a troubling trend. The velocity on his fastball is down — from the low 90s to the high 80s. After striking out seven hitters in his first start, Lincecum struggled to locate his fastball against the Rockies, and so far this season he’s throwing only 53.7 percent of his fastballs for strikes compared to 63.2 percent last summer, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also seems to have ditched his slider as he tries to find a consistent arm slot in his delivery.
But pitchers frequently start the season at slightly lower velocity and build up as the season wears on. For his part, Lincecum doesn’t appear too concerned.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of finding answers per se,” he said. “It’s a matter of grinding through it and knowing at some point in the season you’re going to have these.”
The Giants have to hope Lincecum is getting his duds out of the way in April. Otherwise, they may need Barry Zito to recreate his blast-from-the-past first start about 30 more times to help them stay in the hunt in the National League West.
For those keeping track at home, the Giants are 1-0 in Zito’s starts and 0-5 in games started by anyone else — including $127 million man Matt Cain.
Then again, it’s still early. Very, very early.