Something’s not quite right with The Freak. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In it, I detailed the concerns about his fastball velocity and his struggles to find the strike zone with his most used pitch.

I also noted that it was still “very, very early,” and the San Francisco Giants were not too worried about Lincecum’s status just yet.

Well, here we are five days later, trying to make sense of another awful outing from one of the game’s best young pitchers. It’s still very early, but how long will that excuse hold up for Lincecum? And how many more times can the Giants afford to trot out their top starter if he keeps giving up five runs per start?

Through three starts, Lincecum lasted just 13 2/3 combined innings, giving up 16 earned runs on 22 hits for a 10.54 ERA. On Monday night Lincecum gave up five runs in six innings in a 5-2 loss to the Phillies — and actually lowered his season ERA to 10.54 in the process. That came on the heels of last Wednesday’s disastrous outing in Colorado that saw him allow six runs in 2 1/3 innings for the shortest start of his career.

Clearly all is not right with the man they call “The Freak.” And while he continues to give up runs, the Giants are locking up the rest of their staff long-term. After signing 27-year-old right-hander Matt Cain to a massive $127.5 million, six-year contract during spring training, San Francisco turned around and inked another six-year deal with 22-year-old lefty Madison Bumgarner for $35.56 million. Lincecum, 27, is under contract through next season, but it’s possible he could end up being the odd man out if he is unable to return to his dominant self.

But if you’re looking for a small victory — and at this point, the Giants could be — Lincecum gave up four of his runs in the first inning Monday night, but battled through it to spare his bullpen another exhausting night.

Lincecum has spent more time on the pine during his starts than usual. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

But in a matchup with fellow two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, the damage was irreparable.

With Monday’s start, Lincecum has now surrendered more runs in the first inning this season (nine) than he did all of 2011 (eight). But as frustrating as the first month of the 2012 season has been, Lincecum is trying to keep his head up.

“Right now, I have a small sample size,” he said. “It’s three starts, and I have about 30 or so left. It’s about fixing it and getting it right and being aggressive again. That’s what I can take from this outing. My last five or so innings were good, and I’m going to try to feed off that.”

That all sounds well and good, but how long can the Giants roll with an ineffective ace in a division that appears completely up for grabs?

Follow us: @MattBrooksWP | @CindyBoren


What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum?

Slimmed down Lincecum ready to lead Giants rotation

Matt Cain agrees to $127.5 million, 6-year contract with Giants

MLB Scoreboard | Giants team page