Lincecum settles down, enjoys Minors start

Lincecum settles down, enjoys Minors start

TACOMA, Wash. -- The Angels didn't need Tim Lincecum to be a two-time Cy Young Award winner Thursday night.

All they needed was improvement from the veteran right-hander who's making a comeback to the Major Leagues after hip surgery last September. Lincecum is in the middle of a progression back to The Show after signing with the Angels following an Arizona showcase in mid-May, and on Thursday, that journey took him to a very familiar place: his native Pacific Northwest.

Lincecum, who signed for $2.5 million and has the chance to almost double that with incentives, took another step at Cheney Stadium, where he pitched five innings for the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, against the Mariners' Triple-A team, the Tacoma Rainiers, in front of family and friends among a weeknight crowd of 5,643.

Lincecum, whose famous pitching delivery can be described as an unconventional hodgepodge of moving parts, looked less extreme in his windup than he had been in the past, and he had moments of inconsistency in his first game back at this level since the surgery.

But he got better as the innings went along, and if the Angels can get Thursday's game to be a microcosm of the rest of the season with Lincecum in their starting rotation, they might have a lot to smile about.

In the end, Lincecum certainly did.

"It feels great, to be honest with you, just to be out there competing at this level," said Lincecum, who pitched five innings in Salt Lake's 6-1 loss to Tacoma, giving up three runs on three hits while striking out five, walking three, hitting a batter and committing a balk. He topped out at 91 mph on his fastball early but mostly sat at 89 while also throwing a changeup that sat at 83 mph and a 75 mph curveball.

"Just kind of getting ready for the next one. But just to be around the guys, the camaraderie, the team atmosphere is something I missed a lot. So it's good to be back."

Things didn't start out so smoothly for Lincecum, who strode out to the mound wearing the black and gold road jerseys of the Bees and the No. 24. His hair was short and his glove was Angels-red, and the first batter he faced was a bona fide big leaguer, circa 2016: Mariners shortstop Ketel Marte, rehabbing a jammed thumb and playing designated hitter for the night.

Marte singled, Chris Taylor doubled to deep right-center and Lincecum walked Efren Navarro. Just like that, the bases were loaded. And then Lincecum fell down on the job. Literally. He slipped while attempting to throw a pitch to Mike Zunino and fell on the mound, balking in a run, and Zunino followed with a sacrifice fly to center field that put Lincecum and the Bees in a 2-0 hole. Lincecum got the last two outs of the inning and struck out one, but he threw 26 pitches and only 13 were strikes.

"I was a little erratic and wasn't staying within myself, and I was trying to be too fine with the strike zone," Lincecum said. "I wasn't attacking with quality strikes. I think that was the biggest thing today. I threw a lot of balls today, so that put me behind the ball right there. If I can attack the zone early and get the guys on the defensive, that should work out better next time."

A 23-pitch second inning resulted in another run, but after that, he was relatively clean. He breezed through the third and fourth, needing only 25 pitches total to get through those two innings. He struck out two in the third and one more in the fourth.

He was at 74 pitches (40 strikes) after four, so he came out for one more, and despite some more shakiness in that frame, with a walk and a hit batter, Lincecum finished well, getting the last two batters.

"This was his first game in a long time, and it's an environment that's competitive, Triple-A and back in his hometown, so it's a lot of factors going on for him," said Angels special assistant to the general manager Bud Black.

"But once he got through the first two innings, I thought the next three ... was pretty good pitching."

Linececum said he felt as healthy and strong as he has in five years and that he wasn't trying to pay too much attention to the radar gun.

"I think right now I'm just trying to pitch and not overthrow," Lincecum said. "I think the emotions of the game and the situations just got the better of me a little bit in the beginning, but I settled in and was able to just pitch with what I had.

"I found a rhythm. I figured out what my stuff was doing and tried not to overthrow it."

Tacoma manager Pat Listach also saw something very familiar from having watched Lincecum as an opposing coach in the National League.

"He's a competitor," Listach said. "And once we took the lead, he really bore down and started pounding the zone. And he started throwing his curveball in the third inning and it was effective. He competed."

Lincecum said all seems to be on course for one more rehab outing Tuesday in Reno before joining the Angels to start at Cleveland on June 12.

"It's good to get the feet wet again," Lincecum said.

"Get in that game-type atmosphere and just get the ball rolling again."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.