Looking for answers on Lincecum, and wondering if he's healthy

NEW YORK -- The problem when you're struggling, Tim Lincecum said Monday, is that "you go through 50 different answers when you only need one."

After watching Lincecum pitch against the Mets in a 6-1 Giants win Monday night, I don't need 50 answers. But I do need more than one.

Numbers-wise, this was easily the best of Lincecum's four starts this year. He allowed just one run in five innings, struck out eight, and even hit 92 mph on the radar gun (although only in the first two innings). He walked five and needed 108 pitches to get 15 outs, but considering how his first three starts went, this had to be a step forward.

"A big step forward," Lincecum said.

How big? I'm not so sure, and neither were a couple of rival scouts who watched Lincecum Monday.

"The numbers don't reflect how badly he pitched," one of them said.

Here's something else I'm not sure about: Is Lincecum healthy?

He says he is, but there are already whispers around the game that his hip is bothering him. And his performance Monday left the scouts thinking that something could be wrong, because he wasn't able to drive towards the plate with his usual strength.

"There's no power in his legs," one scout said.

It's dangerous to underestimate Lincecum. He went through the worst month of his career in August 2010 (0-5, 7.82), then regained his usual dominance that September and carried it through October.

Lincecum and Giants manager Bruce Bochy say that the experience of two years ago should help him now. And while Lincecum didn't sound Monday like a guy who has all his confidence back, he also didn't sound like a guy who was totally lost.

He dismissed the radar gun readings (there were a lot more 88s than 91s and 92s), saying that the hitters' swings told him more than the gun.

That's fine, but not every opponent will be as offensively challenged as the Mets. And not every outing will include as much help from the defense as Lincecum got Monday.

Pitchers -- even great pitchers like Lincecum -- go through bad stretches in seasons. This one is particularly bad; Lincecum's 10.54 ERA through three starts was the second worst among all big-league starters, ahead of only the Twins' Francisco Liriano.

If this is just about mechanics and confidence, as Lincecum said, then it's a concern but hardly a crisis. But what if there is a physical issue that's causing the trouble?

"I feel good," Lincecum said. "I feel fine. It's just a matter of getting my mechanics, and doing it over. Not turning into a pitcher trying to throw darts, but into a pitcher who's a thrower but a smart thrower."

Lincecum is smart, and he's tough.

But right now, he's not the same guy who dominated the National League on the way to back-to-back Cy Youngs.

Maybe Monday's game was a step towards regaining that, or maybe it wasn't.

If I can only get one answer, that's the one I want.
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