The Giants are 4-13 in Lincecum's starts, contrasting sharply with their 45-36 record at the season's halfway point. Yet manager Bruce Bochy maintained confidence in the two-time Cy Young Award winner, calling this defeat a "little hiccup."
Confronting their third consecutive first-place opponent, the Giants looked overmatched against National League East-leading Washington, which owns the NL's best record (46-32). Not long ago, it wouldn't matter who Lincecum faced, since he usually was the most dominating figure in any game he pitched.
But after Lincecum blanked Washington in the first inning to extend his scoreless-innings streak to 13, he faded rapidly. He and Bochy partly attributed his lapses to the heat, which was recorded at 94 degrees at game time, as well as the considerable humidity.
"Coming in here and dealing with that heat -- it got the better of me today," Lincecum said, though he added, "I'm not going to look at that as an excuse. I still have to execute pitches."
The heat, combined with the Nationals' success at making Lincecum throw excess pitches, eroded him. His pitch count reached 87 in his truncated outing, largely because Washington scored four of its five runs in the second and third innings with two outs.
"He worked hard and logged a lot of pitches," Bochy said. "I think it caught up with him in the heat."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson cited the importance of making Lincecum work extra.
"For any pitcher, if your command is off, you're going to have problems," Johnson said. "Hitters get to see more pitches, hitters get to time more pitches."
Opposing pitcher Jordan Zimmermann delivered the first of these inning-prolonging runs with a double in the second off a hanging curveball. One inning later, Adam LaRoche's RBI double and Ian Desmond's two-run homer hastened Lincecum's fall. Desmond clobbered Lincecum's 0-1 pitch so harshly that left fielder Melky Cabrera declined to pursue the ball.
"Whatever it is, I wish I'd see it off every pitcher," said Desmond, who's 9-for-11 lifetime against Lincecum. "He's a good pitcher, I think I just rise to the occasion when I face him. The adrenaline -- you can't really fake it. It just shows up. I know he's one of the best pitchers in the game, and it gets my blood going a little bit."
Lincecum's tendency to surrender clumps of runs resurfaced with Washington's three-run uprisings in the third and fourth innings. He has endured six three-run innings, four four-run innings and a five-run inning this season. Moreover, the nine hits Lincecum allowed matched a season high and were one short of his career worst.
Bochy yanked Lincecum after he sandwiched walks to Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman around Bryce Harper's double with one out in the fourth inning. Reliever George Kontos allowed Michael Morse's two-run, bases-loaded single and LaRoche's sacrifice fly to swell Washington's lead to 8-0 and Lincecum's ERA to 6.08, the second-highest mark among NL qualifiers for that statistical title.
This was a rough way for the Giants to open a span of 12 road games in their next 15 dates, a stretch which surely will test their grip on first place in the NL West. Not only did the Nationals thump them, but so did the weather. Showers halted play in the top of the seventh inning and forced a one-hour, 25-minute delay -- which neither team needed, given Wednesday's 11:05 a.m. ET start.
Wisely, Bochy kept regulars Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan fresh by removing them before the delay. Bochy also sent Wednesday's starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, back to the team hotel early.