Phillies aim to get a handle on Tim Lincecum's slider

Tim Lincecum whiffed 14 batters in his playoff debut against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.
Tim Lincecum whiffed 14 batters in his playoff debut against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 9:56 PM

PHILADELPHIA -- By Saturday night's first pitch, the Philadelphia Phillies will have fully digested the reports of their advance scouts, and watched the appropriate videos, to try to get a read on Tim Lincecum's new slider. But there is an element of mystery to Lincecum's newest wrinkle, which won't be completely solved until the Phillies are in the batter's box against him -- and maybe not even then.

"There's nothing you can do" to prepare, Phillies slugger Ryan Howard said, when asked how the Phillies are preparing for Lincecum's new pitch. "Just be ready."

The new slider being thrown by Lincecum, who starts Game 1 of the National League Championship Series for the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, has become a devastating weapon for the two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner -- as the Atlanta Braves can attest. In Game 1 of the division series, Lincecum used it heavily in striking out 14 Atlanta batters and coaxing a career-high 31 swinging strikes.

Lincecum began throwing the pitch in mid-September, after toying with the slider grip favored by teammate Matt Cain while playing catch in the outfield. He began using it in games over his final four starts of the regular season -- enough for the Braves' scouts to take note of it. But against the Braves, a first-inning strikeout with the new slider emboldened him and catcher Buster Posey to lean on it for the rest of the start, to devastating effect.

"I have to pick my spots" with it, Lincecum said. "It's been effective thus far. I think I should be just fine with it."

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley confirmed that he and his teammates have seen video of Lincecum's new pitch -- which has at least partially replaced his change-up as his primary "out" pitch -- but said little else about the Phillies' approach to it.

The blister Lincecum developed on the middle finger of his throwing hand following the NLDS start may be related to the new slider grip ¿ which incorporates the seams of the baseball more than his old grip. But Lincecum said Friday that the blister had "calloused over" and was "fine."

Lopez lands in good place

Lefty bullpen specialist Javier Lopez received a pleasant surprise on July 31, the day of baseball's trade deadline, when the moribund Pittsburgh Pirates sent him to the Giants, who, at the time, were trying desperately to catch the San Diego Padres in the NL West.

Now, Lopez is the Giants' primary left-handed set-up man, an indispensable weapon against the left-leaning lineup of the Phillies.

"If you had told me then how this season would end," said Lopez, a product of Robinson and the University of Virginia. "I would have thought you were kidding me."

Lopez, who pitched for the 2007 Boston Red Sox team that won the World Series, has put together arguably the best stretch of his career for the Giants, posting a 1.42 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .164 batting average and .368 on-base plus slugging percentage in 27 appearances.

Kendrick joins roster

The Phillies made one slight tweak to their NLCS roster, adding right-handed pitcher Kyle Kendrick as a long reliever and dropping veteran pinch-hit specialist Greg Dobbs.

The Giants had not announced their roster as of Friday evening, but they are expected to add lefty reliever Dan Runzler as an additional bullpen weapon to counteract the Phillies' left-handed hitters.

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