Lincecum rocketing toward big leagues

Lincecum rocketing toward Major Leagues

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In a sense, Tim Lincecum is a descendant of some of the game's greatest pitchers, including Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige.

Lincecum's skill, however, is his alone.

Lincecum's electric arm has made him the most-scrutinized player in camp, with the possible exception of resident stars Barry Bonds and Barry Zito. The right-hander's ability to generate searing fastballs and parabolic curveballs from his slender frame -- officially listed as 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds -- makes him a magnet for attention.

"If he was 6-4, they'd still be excited but they wouldn't be saying all these things," said Chris Lincecum, Tim's father.

The excitement surrounding Tim Lincecum is almost palpable. Having recorded a 1.71 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings over eight professional outings after the Giants selected him 10th overall in last June's First-Year Player Draft, Lincecum just might sustain his momentum and make his Major League debut this season.

The elder Lincecum is partly responsible for turning his son into an object of fascination. As a youth, Chris Lincecum was a precursor of his son, an aspiring pitcher with a slight build.

Although Chris Lincecum grew up long before television disseminated big-league images everywhere, he saw enough film of certain established pitchers to gain a heightened understanding of pitching techniques.

"As far as Koufax, it was his curveball and his form," Chris Lincecum recalled. "I saw Satchel Paige's looseness, Feller's body mechanics and Bob Gibson's follow-through." His own style, Lincecum found, "was between all of them."

Living in suburban Seattle, Lincecum didn't make baseball a career, but he shared the intricacies of pitching with anybody who would listen.

"I cared about the kids," he said. After a while, though, he had only one pupil. "I stopped," he said, "because I wanted to watch Timmy's rise."

Tim eagerly absorbed Dad's wisdom, even if it wasn't clear to outsiders. They found that by employing a long stride and a whiplike arm motion, Tim could throw harder than much bigger pitchers. His 491 strikeouts at the University of Washington, a Pacific-10 Conference record, served as proof of this. So did the .127 batting average opponents compiled against him in the Minors last season.

Some observers have criticized Lincecum's habit of wrapping his right arm behind his right leg as he rears back in his windup. Skeptics call it an unorthodox tendency that could lead to an injury.

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But, said Tim Lincecum, "It's more keeping my arm back so it doesn't get ahead of my body. It keeps my upper body closed longer; I can get more power and torque out of it. It keeps my arm from tensing up and muscling the ball."

Giants general manager Brian Sabean has no complaints: "He's pretty fluid. He's mechanically sound and that's how he gets the extension and power on his pitches."

As Chris Lincecum explained, "He uses all his 'hinges' from his feet to the tips of his fingers, creating a lot of leverage. It creates energy from the bottom of the top. ... It's all about balance and rhythm." Tim's success at maintaining the proper sequence of his movements, said Chris, "creates the velocity and also the command."

Tim Lincecum's combination of those qualities has the Giants believing that he can develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Lenn Sakata, who manages the Giants' Class A San Jose affiliate, delivered high praise for Lincecum, 22.

"Since I've been in baseball," Sakata said, "I haven't had a kid with that kind of stuff and that kind of command -- the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes."

A former Major League infielder, Sakata spent 1980-85 with the pitching-rich Baltimore Orioles, whose staff included lively armed right-handers Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis.

"This kid's got better stuff than them," Sakata said.

Catcher Steve Holm, Lincecum's batterymate at San Jose, echoed an observation often associated with the great Koufax.

"As good as his fastball was, his breaking ball was almost a better pitch -- 12-to-6, top-to-bottom, late break," Holm said. "It's exactly what you want. He throws it as hard as a lot of guys throw their fastball."

Lincecum might not achieve his Major League dream immediately. The Giants intend to groom him as a starter, and Russ Ortiz is the early favorite to win the lone vacancy in the rotation. More likely, Lincecum will open the season in Double-A or Triple-A. But he appears destined to reach San Francisco by the conclusion of the season.

"There's no sense of urgency. We'll kind of ease him into this," Sabean said.

"Wherever I end up, I'm going to be fine with it," Lincecum said.

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