Barring injuries to anyone in the starting rotation, that won't happen immediately. The Giants are extremely content with their front five of Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry and Russ Ortiz. Lincecum has only eight games of regular-season professional experience since being selected in the first round of last June's First-Year Player Draft, so the Giants want the right-hander to gain savvy before summoning him to the Majors.
"I think it's for the best," Lincecum said of his demotion. "They told me not to think about [ascending to the Majors] too much. I wasn't planning on it."
But the Giants have big plans for Lincecum, particularly after they watched the 22-year-old display his impressive fastball-curveball combination. His side sessions early in camp became required viewing for club executives and any veteran who happened to have free time. The right-hander's 6.43 ERA in three Cactus League appearances belied the impression he made with his repertoire and poise.
"He can be the next Matt Cain of this staff," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "He seems to have great stuff. Obviously he has to learn a little more, but he has shown these guys he can do the job on a high level."
"We're not changing anything with this kid," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He threw well this spring. He's just getting a little more seasoning."
Lincecum took heart in his improved control. Fulfilling his intent to follow one of baseball's basics -- throwing strikes -- he issued one walk and struck out seven in seven innings.
"That was always a problem in college, walking the frickin' world," said the University of Washington product.
If the Giants' rotation struggles, the demand for Lincecum will rise among San Francisco fans. Such was the case in 2005, when the Giants let Cain steep in Fresno until late August. Lincecum has no idea whether he, too, will receive a late-season promotion.
"I'd like to," he said. "But if I'm not, I'm not going to kick myself in the head."
Lincecum's departure left 36 players in Major League camp, 11 above the Opening Day limit. Bochy said that the Giants will take this group to San Francisco for the slate of four consecutive Bay Area exhibitions beginning Thursday against Seattle at AT&T Park. Final roster cuts, Bochy added, will come next Sunday.
The Giants absorbed their spring-high sixth consecutive defeat and 12th in their last 15 exhibitions, a 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Ariz.
The Padres settled matters with an eight-run third inning against Sun-Woo Kim, whose misery began when he yielded Adrian Gonzalez's two-run homer. But the outburst also included some tainted hits, including Russell Branyan's RBI double under first baseman Lance Niekro's glove and Brian Giles' two-run double that center fielder Todd Linden lost in the sun.
"We didn't handle a couple of balls. That's killing us," Bochy said.
Jonathan Sanchez, Vinnie Chulk, Jack Taschner and Brian Wilson blanked San Diego afterward, raising their stock individually and the bullpen's collectively.
"We know some guys who are going to be here. They pitched today," Bochy said cryptically. "We're staying open-minded on a couple of spots."
Sanchez, who surrendered one hit in 2 1/3 innings, was particularly impressive.
Bochy, who managed the Padres for the previous 12 seasons, received warm applause from the Peoria Sports Complex crowd as he walked to the Giants' dugout. But Bochy didn't get swept away by the emotion of facing his former team for the first time.
"That's behind me," Bochy said. "I have great memories there and tremendous respect for those players I had. But I've moved on."
Bochy left the club after the game to travel to Florida for the funeral of his mother, Melrose, who died last Friday night after a long illness. Bochy will rejoin the Giants in San Francisco on Thursday.
Niekro, who's out of Minor League options, played the entire game -- the better to entice potential trading partners -- and went 3-for-4 with a double and a homer to hike his batting average to .368. "They're making it tough," Bochy said, referring to the trio of Giants (Niekro, Jason Ellison and Mark Sweeney) vying for one roster spot. ... Center fielder Dave Roberts (sprained joint near chest) and second baseman Ray Durham (right hamstring) are expected to rejoin the lineup Monday. Neither has played since last Wednesday. Infielder Rich Aurilia (groin) will be out until at least this Wednesday. ... Ortiz pitched in a Minor League intrasquad game to stay on his pitching schedule. He cruised, allowing two runs and five hits in seven innings while walking none and striking out four.