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The Tim Lincecum Problem threatening to force Giants' hand

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tim Lincecum Problem is threatening to carry over into 2013.

What the Giants are hoping is that the time he missed because of a blister earlier this spring simply has him behind everybody else.

What the Giants fear is the worst-case scenario: that he gets knocked around similarly to last year when the season starts and they are forced to consider removing him from the rotation.

Lincecum was blasted in his most recent Cactus League outing on Saturday. In four spring starts, his ERA needs an anti-inflammatory: It's 10.97.

"It's spring training,” manager Bruce Bochy says. "We've seen guys have great springs, and when the season starts they struggle.

"And last year, you couldn't have had a worse spring than (Barry) Zito.”

And Zito produced 15 wins and a 4.15 ERA in 2012.

Lincecum says the problem is that his mechanics continue to get mucked up in the middle of games.

The Giants agree, but they also think he is over-thinking situations and searching for a "magic bullet” instead of working through jams methodically.

The magic bullet he once had no longer is a weapon: Acccording to brooksbaseball.net his average fastball velocity has dipped from 94.60 mph during his rookie season in 2007 to 91.06 in 2012.

Similarly, his sinker has slowed from 94.16 in '07 to 90.91.

"Confidence-wise, I know I can still get outs,” Lincecum said after Saturday's shaky outing. "It's not a matter of worrying about guys getting hits or being fearful of that.

"If I just make my pitches, I'll be good.”

Over 80 pitches against the Athletics on Saturday, he surrendered five runs on six hits in three-plus innings. He fanned five, walked three and hung a slider that Yoenis Cespedes blasted for a two-run homer.

A scout sitting behind home plate had Lincecum's fastball sitting between 89 and 93 mph.

"His stuff had action,” the scout said. "He just had no command today.”

Lincecum's problems in 2012 were especially severe in the first inning, when he yielded a major league-high 28 first-inning runs. He also walked a career high 4.4 batters per nine innings last year.

This spring, he's walked seven hitters in 10 2/3 innings. And the Giants say he is stronger and in better shape than he was last spring, when he had lost weight.

But his workload, because of his blisters earlier in camp, remains the lightest of the Giants' rotation. Matt Cain, for example, has worked 20 innings this spring. Madison Bumgarner is at 14 2/3, and Ryan Vogelson at 14.

Best thing about Lincecum's most recent outing is that he went 80 pitches.

Worst thing is that he was still in the fourth inning when he was removed.

"It's more of a concern for us to get his strength up,” Bochy said.

Check back a couple of weeks into the season.

If that remains the Giants' biggest concern, they will be in good shape with Lincecum.

 
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