Lincecum bested by Rockies ace

Lincecum bested by Rockies ace

SAN FRANCISCO -- Besides the Memorial Day observances that the Giants held Monday at AT&T Park, one could imagine another ceremony taking place: The passing of the Cy Young torch from Tim Lincecum to Ubaldo Jimenez.

Both pitchers remained on their respective courses -- alarmingly so for the Giants, who mustered four hits against the dominant Jimenez in a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Lincecum displayed marginal improvement in his 100th career start but couldn't entirely shake the inconsistency that has replaced confidence with concern among himself and the Giants. He issued five walks for the fourth consecutive outing while striking out a season-low three batters. Lincecum grew a tad stingier, allowing all of Colorado's runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Still, Lincecum (5-2) has yielded 14 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings spanning his last three starts, hiking his ERA from 1.76 to 3.14.

"I try not to sit too much on the negative," said Lincecum, who nevertheless added, "There's too much negative going on right now."

Against the Rockies, negative for Lincecum meant yielding a two-run, two-out, second-inning single to Clint Barmes, who had gone hitless in 11 at-bats against the Giants ace. Negative also meant surrendering a fifth-inning RBI double to Todd Helton, who has only nine extra-base hits and a .329 slugging percentage this season.

And negative meant all those walks, resulting from a lack of command while making Lincecum the only starter in the Giants' San Francisco history to walk at least five batters for four starts in a row.

"This," Lincecum said of his slump, "is a little bit longer than I was hoping it would be."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy tried to remain upbeat about Lincecum.

"That was a better outing. I think he's close," Bochy said. "I think he's getting better with all his stuff. ... Overall, he should feel better about his outing today."

He didn't.

"I feel kind of out of sync," Lincecum said.

Another right-hander threw freely and breathtakingly, just as Lincecum had done until recently. That was Jimenez (10-1), who became the Major Leagues' first 10-game winner and lowered his big league-best ERA to 0.78 with his second career shutout. The 26-year-old Dominican, who has not yielded more than two runs in any of his 11 starts, has emerged as the leading candidate to capture the National League Cy Young Award that Lincecum has won the previous two years. Lincecum himself termed Jimenez's success "pretty unreal."

Jimenez established himself immediately against the Giants, who rapped 31 hits in their previous two games. His first pitch of the afternoon was a 96-mph fastball to Andres Torres, who proceeded to strike out on an 80-mph curveball.

"You see the radar gun; he's throwing hard the first part of the game," said Giants first baseman Buster Posey, who went 0-for-3. "Then later in the game, it's not as hard, but the ball's moving a little bit more."

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval went 3-for-4 but was duly impressed. Asked if he considered Jimenez the league's best pitcher, Sandoval said, "I think so, yes."

That distinction formerly belonged to Lincecum, who showed flashes of his best form. He threw 11 pitches in a perfect first inning and ended a 1-2-3 third by striking out Seth Smith and Helton. But the walks, two of them intentional, elevated his pitch count to 121 and prevented him from lasting six innings for the third start in a row.

"He still looked good today," Barmes said. "Yeah, he threw a lot of pitches and we got his pitch count up. But he's been known to do that in the past. He still had good movement and kept us off-balance. I don't think we hit him real hard. He's obviously not far from where he used to be, if there is a difference."

If Lincecum was apprehensive about this outing, he didn't show it. Shortly before noon he displayed his usual exuberance, dancing in front of his locker to Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)" and mouthing the lyrics.

The music stopped for Lincecum when he walked Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe to open the second inning. Miguel Olivo struck out before Ian Stewart's fielder's-choice grounder left runners at the corners. Up came Barmes, who grounded a 1-2 delivery up the middle.

Lincecum labored even when he threw a scoreless fourth inning, throwing 21 pitches and leaving the bases loaded. He then surrendered a fifth-inning run on Smith's seeing-eye single and Helton's double.

Walking Carlos Gonzalez on a 3-2 pitch ended Lincecum's day with two outs in the sixth and Stewart on third base via an infield single. Left-hander Dan Runzler relieved Lincecum and flung a wild pickoff attempt past first base to send home Stewart.

That ended the scoring. But the head-scratching over Lincecum is bound to continue. He sounded as if he were still searching for answers.

"I'm not necessarily saying something's wrong," Lincecum said of his pitching. "But you have to fix it."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.