MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Lincecum battles loss of velocity

Lincecum battles loss of velocity

NEW YORK -- The heat and humidity on Thursday night at Citi Field might be a reasonable explanation why Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum lost whatever may be left of his once vaunted velocity as he struggled to get through five innings against the Mets.

"It wasn't the heat so much, it was just a little bit heavier air than we're used to," Lincecum said, making no excuses after the Giants lost this one, 5-4, on Michael Cuddyer's walk-off single. "I just didn't find a way to battle through it."

Lincecum is a wonderful young man and it's very painful to watch him start after start try to "battle through it." He's on another one of those incessant down streaks that have plagued him all too often the past few years. In his last four starts, he's allowed 14 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings, a 6.41 ERA.

He's fortunate the Giants have come from behind after manager Bruce Bochy took him out, earning Lincecum a pair of wins in those four games. He's 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in his 12 starts, excellent overall numbers, but certainly not representative of the troubles he's encountered trying to twist himself into this type of highly nuanced pitcher.

Based mostly on his 95-mph fastball days, Lincecum won the National League's Cy Young Award twice, pitched two no-hitters, won 107 games in nine big-league seasons and owns three World Series rings. At 30, though, it also may be reasonable to believe that, barring some miracle of mechanics, his best days really are behind him.

And that fear was a big reason why the Giants kept him on the postseason roster this past October, but used him to pitch just once in relief as they won the World Series for the third time in five years.

After the game, Bochy claimed that Lincecum "was throwing the ball well, he was throwing the ball real well." But the evidence after he worked through the first three innings, allowing no hits and striking out four, was just too devastating.

Lincecum threw a mixture of five pitches against the Mets - a two-seam fastball, four-seamer, changeup, curve and slider -- a very nice array. But of the 102 pitches he tossed to 22 batters in 4 2/3 innings, only three of them touched 90 miles per hour.

By the time he began to wilt during the fifth inning, he couldn't throw a pitch harder than 86 mph and eight of his final 24 were in the 70s. Imagine that. Let that sink in --the 70s.

Perhaps even worse was the fact there no longer is any distance in mph between his fastball and his breaking pitches, leaving very little room to deceive the hitters. The common equation is that a pitcher's changeup should be about 10 mph slower than his fastball. Thrown with the same motion, the hitter believes a fastball is coming and winds up swinging at air.

Most of the time on Thursday night, Lincecum's fastball and changeup were clocking in at 86 mph. His command wasn't very good, either. He walked three and only 58 of his pitches were strikes. As the night grew long and he obviously began to tire, Lincecum was constantly behind in the count as he tried to use the corners of the zone.

Always a standup individual and very self-analytical, Lincecum was happy to have the support of his manager, but he just didn't agree with him.

"I'm just not finishing guys off when I'm supposed to," he said. "I had to do my best to battle out of those innings when I put myself in a hole. It just comes back to challenging the bottom of the strike zone more and making them hit the ball more, which is what I was doing in my first eight starts. I just haven't been executing the last few games. The first three innings were really good and then the rest was garbage."

Lincecum whiffed Juan Lagares with an 83 mph changeup to open the fourth and then the chaos began. Two walks, an error and a bloop single led to the Mets' first run. The bases were jammed with two out when Eric Campbell scorched a liner to left. Nori Aoki took two steps in and grabbed it with one hand.

But it was a portent of things to come. As Lincecum faded in the fifth, pitcher Jonathan Niese and Cuddyer each hit booming doubles on pitches Lincecum simply left over the plate. The pitch that Cuddyer hit was an 80-mph four-seamer that chased Lincecum from the game. One could never have imagined Lincecum throwing that kind of pitch in that situation, during the first five years of his career.

"Oh, it's always going to be different," Lincecum said. "You always have to make adjustments. It's chess, not checkers. It always goes back to trusting your stuff. I just have be better about reading the rhythm of the game. I should have been attacking more with my fastball and gone to my secondary stuff later.

"They just can't be sitting there waiting for me to throw that pitch down the middle. They just kept waiting for me to throw that when I'm way behind in the count."

And when that pitch is in the mid-80s, therein lies the crux of the problem.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.