SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Despite the 60-degree sunshine Thursday, Tim Lincecum showed up for his interview session in the Giants clubhouse wearing a black, wool skull cap pulled tight to the tip of his ears. Maybe fans should have covered their eyes. For the second straight outing, the 25-year-old right-hander hardly looked like a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. Lincecum spoke at length about finding his balance and rhythm, but the bottom line is this: Since signing a two-year, $23 million contract, Lincecum has been raked for seven runs (four earned) on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. Both times Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to remove Lincecum from the game in mid-inning. Bochy has already tabbed Lincecum to be the Opening Night starter on April 5 at Houston.
"He was a little off," Bochy said after the Giants dropped a 6-2 decision to the Mariners at Scottsdale Stadium. "He was up. Had trouble throwing the ball where he wanted. He worked hard out there. He had thrown enough pitches so I had to go get him. Had trouble with his command, but that's why we're here." Just like Lincecum's last start on March 3 against the Mariners at Peoria, Ariz., Ichiro Suzuki opened the first with a hit -- this time a double -- and Seattle was off to the races. Chone Figgins walked, precipitating a double steal in which Lincecum barely checked the runners. Ryan Garko knocked them both in with a base hit. In the third, Eric Byrnes beat out a single to deep short when first baseman Aubrey Huff couldn't pick up a throw in the dirt from Edgar Renteria. Jose Lopez motored home and stopped dead midway down the third-base line. But when Huff's throw skipped away from catcher Bengie Molina, Lopez scored and Byrnes went to second. Ryan Langerhans singled home Byrnes. End of the outing, but not of the story. Lincecum appeared clearly peeved after the error by Huff, who is trying to relearn playing first base after three years in the American League where he mostly was utilized as a designated hitter. "You can see frustration in my face once in a while out there, but I had to go with it; that's part of the game," Lincecum said. "You have to roll with the punches and prepare for the next batter. That's how you deal with any game. You have to put stuff in the past."
Sometimes it's hard to imagine that Lincecum is only starting his third full big league season."My body is still adapting to playing professional [length] seasons," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do." He is 33-12 during the past two seasons and was awarded the Cy Young after both. This past offseason, he avoided going to salary arbitration with the Giants by agreeing just prior to the hearing to his new contract that will pay him $10 million this year. He said he didn't have much time this winter to do anything save for core body work, but now he's irrevocably made the jump from phenom to a kid who has the expectations of a franchise riding on his right shoulder. "I can go home, think about my awards and what happened -- what kind of pressure it could create for me," the still baby-faced Lincecum said. "But that would be me creating the pressure, instead of taking it the way it is. The past is in the past. This is a new season. I just want to relax and focus on now." It has been a hectic spring for Lincecum. He missed his scheduled last start because of the rare rain that pelted southern Arizona this past Sunday, wiping out the Giants among all but two Cactus League games. Bochy decided to let Lincecum throw simulated innings that day in the cage, rather than reschedule the start. Thus, it had been eight days for Lincecum between starts, perhaps explaining Thursday's continued problems. But that doesn't fully explain his 9.82 ERA. "I was fortunate to catch one of the best pitchers of all time," said Bochy, talking about Nolan Ryan when the two were with the Astros. "His springs were always ugly. Guys are here working on things and that's what Timmy's doing. He's going to be fine. His stuff is fine. He's healthy and you'll see Timmy get better and better with each outing."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.