After an inspiring sweep of a less than formidable Diamondbacks team finished off by a resilient extra-innings victory, game one against the division rival Rockies didn’t go quite as well. And predictably so. Honestly, there’s no shame in getting shut out by Ubaldo Jimenez, a guy with a 0.78 ERA. He has yet to give up more than two runs to any opponent this season, so there was no real reason to believe the Giants would be the team to do so first.
The real concern here is with Tim Lincecum, who had his third straight sub-par outing, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) to go with 5 walks. Timmy’s never had great control with his fastball, but this last game against the Rockies was indicative that something isn’t right. It would be one thing if he was on the corners and getting squeezed by the umpire, but he was really nowhere close to the strike zone yesterday. Lots of people would point to a possible injury as the issue, while others would say it’s purely a mechanical issue. Personally I lean towards the latter.
The best indicator of this can be seen in the fact that his velocity is still right about where it should be. Yesterday his fastball hovered in the 91-94 mph range, which is par for the course. Any damage to his rotator cuff, elbow, or shoulder would likely result in a significant loss of miles on his fastball, as well a reluctance to go to his breaking pitches as they severely stress the arm.
So this raises the question, what is wrong with Timmy? It could be as simple as the fact that someone who’s dominated at every level since college is truly struggling for the first time. Even the greatest pitchers (and hitters for that matter) hit cold streaks. To expect Lincecum to be perfect all day every day is unrealistic, as great as he is. Quite frankly, his last two seasons have spoiled us and given us certain expectations every time he toes the rubber. And that’s fine. As long we’re understanding that believe it or not, he’s subject to struggle, just as any pitcher is.
Think of Barry Bonds to gain some perspective. During his tenure as a Giant, he too was subject to long, seemingly endless homerless stretches. Even so, I know I had the expectation that every time he stepped up to the plate, there was a distinct possibility that he would go deep. The same can be said of Tim Lincecum. Every time he pitches, we expect the Giants to win. If he sets down the first six hitters in order, it’s actually reasonable to think that maybe this time out, he’ll throw a perfect game. Not a lot of other fans have the luxury to think this way about any of their starters. Such a mindset is saved for the Roy Halladays and Ubaldo Jimenez’s of the world. To suddenly not feel that way about our own ace is harrowing to say the least.
At the same time, it needs to be taken with a grain of sand. Yes, Timmy’s walked five hitters in each of his last four starts. It’s hard to watch someone who’s been so untouchable suddenly become mortal and lose his ability to slay opposing hitters. But this will pass. Tim Lincecum was and is a very good pitcher. He will be a very good pitcher once he overcomes this small hurdle, and will continue to be for a long time, health pending.
The new old Barry Zito takes the mound tonight against not Ubaldo Jimenez, which is cause for some optimism. It’s never fun getting shut out, and it’s never fun seeing your ace go through a rough patch. Yet still, there’s a lot of baseball left to play this season.