SAN DIEGO -- If there was any mystery to the decision, it became clear on Sunday that Tim Lincecum is going to have a place in the Giants' postseason rotation despite a 10-15 record, a 5.18 ERA and another lackluster performance against the Padres at Petco Park. Lincecum said as much after the Giants came back in the ninth inning to win, 7-5, behind homers from Xavier Nady and Hunter Pence in the home closer for the Padres. Manager Bruce Bochy confirmed the move is "subject to change," but neither man said they knew when Lincecum would pitch in their National League Division Series. Bochy said the Giants will carry all five starters on the 25-man roster. And Lincecum said he's had a conversation with the coaches about his status as a starter.
"Not necessarily the order," Lincecum said after allowing five runs on four hits, including a season-high three home runs. But they've told him he's in the rotation? "Yeah," he added. Matt Cain is tentatively slated to start in Game 1 on Saturday against either the Reds or Nationals at AT&T Park. Game 2 is still up for grabs. It's a different position for the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, who's used to starting on Opening Day whether that game begins the regular season or the postseason. "I understand that the way things have been going this year that it's not going to be the case in the postseason," Lincecum said. "You've got to go with the guys who have had great years. [Madison] Bumgarner, [Ryan] Vogelsong, Cain, those are going to be the guys. If I can find my way in there and give what I can when I can, that's all that matters to me." Cain (16-5), Bumgarner (16-11), Vogelsong (14-9) and even Barry Zito (14-8) have all had much better seasons than Lincecum. The task for the Giants brain trust is going to be determining which guy doesn't start, particularly in the best-of-five first round -- when you only need four starting arms. Two years ago, when the Giants won the World Series, they sat Zito, a former American League Cy Young Award winner, who played himself off the playoff roster for all three rounds because of a 1-4 September into October that included a 4-2 home loss to the Padres on the next to the last day of the season. The Giants avoided a three-way tie for the NL West and Wild Card slot by defeating the Padres the next day. Bochy said on Sunday that telling Zito he wasn't going to make the postseason roster was one of the toughest conversations he's ever had with a player. Reliever Guillermo Mota was given that spot. "It really was one of the more difficult calls I had to make," Bochy said. "But I will say for him, he handled it like a professional. He went out and threw a bullpen after I told him. Throughout the whole postseason he kept working. He faced hitters. He kept throwing. He kept himself ready in case something happened. He was there every day and never hung his head." So far this hasn't happened to Lincecum, although every team has the opportunity to reset their 25-man roster each time they ascend to the next round. How would he react if he was left out? "At first, it would be shocking because you want to be included," Lincecum said. "As long as I'm included, as long as I can help the team, that's all I'm looking for. I understand that the season I've had this year has a bearing on decisions. Those things weigh on their minds as well as mine." Lincecum has fared much better this September than Zito did two years ago. He had a 3-1 record and recorded his best month of the season. But he hasn't pitched well his last two times out, allowing 12 runs on 10 hits in 10 innings. Bochy might be going out on a limb by starting Lincecum in the postseason. But he's basing a lot of his decision on what occurred two years ago when Lincecum was 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six playoff appearances, five of them very dominant starts. Bochy, who has been managing every year since 1995 when he took over the Padres, has always been fiercely loyal to his veteran guys. He's going to the playoffs for the sixth time as a manager, including twice since leaving San Diego to join the Giants in 2007. And Sunday, Bochy said he still has confidence in Lincecum moving forward despite the very unLincecum-like season. "I do," Bochy said. "I think he's one of those guys who finds a way. He's tough mentally." To be sure, Lincecum has needed that mental toughness as he's tried to figure out his ineffectiveness during the season of his discontent. He can draw from the fact that he had an awful 0-5 August 2010 with a 7.82 ERA and then rebounded after that Sept. 1, finishing the season with a 9-2 record in his last 11 starts through the playoffs and World Series. Still, he harbors no illusions about being on the bubble this time around. At 28 and as a veteran of six big-league seasons, he's well-aware that it's a performance-based business and at this time of year there better be positive results. "When it comes down to the scheme of things, it's whatever you can do to help your team win, whether it's start or come out of the bullpen," Lincecum said. About two years ago: "I haven't necessarily talked to them about that and they haven't talked to me about that," he added. "I'm sure it has some bearing on their minds. But it's helping me carry that confidence into the postseason knowing that I've been there and done that." Whether he can do it again this time around will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.