Lincecum ready to show world he is back

After long road back from hip surgery, former Cy Young Award winner hopes to help Angels

Lincecum ready to show world he is back

Chris Lincecum met his son at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on Jan. 25. He thought he'd stay for five or six weeks, tops, but it wound up being 18. Tim Lincecum was nearly five months removed from hip surgery and was ready to resume throwing. So he called on Chris, the man who constructed and groomed his distinctive delivery, and their work ensued throughout the state of Arizona.

It was there -- at a softball park on school days and a high school football field on weekends; at a community-college soccer field on some mornings and a substandard Minor League mound on others -- that Lincecum tapped into who he was and began to establish who he was going to be.

By May 20, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, three-time World Series champion and four-time All-Star had signed a pro-rated, incentive-laden $2.5 million contract with the Angels.

And now, at last, Lincecum's moment has come.

He is expected to make his highly-anticipated season debut on Saturday, against the A's in Oakland, a five-mile bridge away from the city where Lincecum will forever be exalted.

The hip?

"That hip is perfect," Chris Lincecum said. "He'll be dead before that hip goes bad."

Lincecum's career appeared dead, or perhaps on life support, by the middle of last summer.

Prolonged stiffness in Lincecum's left hip had restricted the range of motion in his violent delivery, forcing the right-hander's body to drift toward the first-base side and putting unnatural stress on his arm. His ERA had gone from 2.81 in 2008-11 to 4.68 from 2012-15, a four-year stretch in which Lincecum's strikeout rate and fastball velocity steadily declined.

Lincecum had a 3.31 ERA by the time he finished his June 16 start with the Giants last season, but he was charged with five runs in 1 1/3 innings on June 21 and exited his June 27 outing after taking a line drive to his right forearm in the second inning.

He spent the next two months shut down with a hip injury, then finally relented to surgery on Sept. 3.

At the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., that day, Dr. Marc Philippon repaired a torn labrum, shaved a bone buildup to alleviate impingement in his socket and gave Lincecum a rehab timeline of about five months.

Chris believes the surgery "saved him from further injury" to his arm.

The throwing program that followed played out methodically.

Lincecum on joining the Angels

It began with long toss, then firmer throws from a short distance, then flat-ground work from 60 feet away, then bullpen sessions. Lincecum threw off a mound every five days in the five or so weeks leading up to his May 6 showcase, most of the work coming in the back fields of the Giants' Spring Training complex and some of it exceeding 90 pitches.

He threw only 41 of them in front of dozens of scouts and media members in Scottsdale, Ariz., but that was enough for the Angels, who had a desperate need in their rotation and fulfilled Lincecum's desire to remain on the West coast.

In his first four weeks with the organization, Lincecum has struck Angels general manager Billy Eppler as something of a low-maintenance perfectionist.

"His ego is of the common-man standard," Eppler said. "It's not an elevated ego. He's just very real, very honest."

Eppler noticed that on the afternoon of June 7, after Lincecum completed his second rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake. The Angels believed he might be ready to take the ball for their Major League team in five days, but Lincecum asked Eppler for one more start. His off-speed pitches felt good, but he wasn't precise with his fastball location and was still having trouble finding his rhythm in the early innings.

So Lincecum took the ball for the Bees once again this past Sunday and twirled seven innings of one-hit ball, walking one, striking out eight and throwing his fastball 88 to 91 mph, which has basically been his range for most of the spring.

"I think he's going to be able to come in here and contribute," Eppler said when asked for his expectations of Lincecum. "He's going to be able to locate his secondary stuff, locate his fastball. He's going to get them with moxie and some deception and pitchability."

Mike Morin was called up from Triple-A nine days ago and raved about the way Lincecum immersed himself into a Minor League setting. Morin, a non-closing reliever with less than two years of service time, introduced himself one day. And on the next, Lincecum walked by and said, "Hey Mike, how's it going?"

Morin called him "unbelievably personable."

"Just seeing him interact, he was seriously one of the guys, which made it that cool," Morin said. "What a cool thing when you're in the Triple-A locker room and you have a guy who's done everything that he's done, and he's there, and he's just literally enjoying being there. It didn't matter. He was just friendly, to everyone."

Lincecum, who turned 32 on Wednesday, is the only pitcher to capture a Cy Young Award in each of his first two full seasons. He vaulted the Giants to their first championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958, winning the first and last game of the 2010 World Series. He's thrown two no-hitters, in his lean years, and has led the NL in strikeouts three times.

But he is also universally beloved, because he did it all with a scrawny build and because he is as intelligent as he is endearing. Chris -- biased on the subject, of course -- called Tim "the best team guy I've ever known. Ever. In anything."

But all that matters now is how he'll pitch.

"He'll have good games and bad games, just like everybody does," said Chris, who finally left Arizona on May 31, aboard a private jet arranged by his son. "Hopefully it starts off good, because so far it has."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.