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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Giants need Lincecum to return to form

Team banking on short break from rotation clearing former ace's head

Giants need Lincecum to return to form play video for Giants need Lincecum to return to form

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy is known for his patience.

Right now, however, patience is not an option.

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The Giants need a jolt.

A team that looked like it could run away with the division back on June 8 -- the Giants were 42-21 and 9 1/2 games in front of the Dodgers in the National League West -- is battling to remain a factor in the NL postseason race, whether it be as the NL West champions or one of the NL Wild Cards, and the season is winding down.

The Giants woke up Monday morning 4 1/2 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West, just a game ahead of the Braves in the battle for the second NL Wild Card.

And then came the wakeup call.

Tim Lincecum was dropped from the rotation. Yusmeiro Petit will start in his place in Thursday's series finale against the Rockies at AT&T Park.

After that ...

"We'll see," said Bochy.

There's no question that the Giants need The Tim Lincecum to make their stretch run.

But right now, Lincecum just isn't Lincecum.

This Lincecum is coming off a stretch in which he is 1-3 with a 9.49 ERA in his last six starts. He has worked fewer than five innings in five of his last six starts. Lincecum has given up four runs or more in four of the last six starts.

"It is pretty important to get him back, throwing the way he was not too long ago," said Bochy.

Lincecum had a four-start stretch just before the All-Star break in which he not only won all four games, but he allowed only one run in 30 1/3 innings. It brought back memories of those NL Cy Young Award-winning seasons of 2008 and '09.

That, however, is just a memory now.

And the Giants can't afford memories.

There's no time to reminisce when only five weeks remain and a postseason opportunity is at stake.

"The margin of error is not there at this point of the season like it is in April or May," said Bochy. "Right now you have to make a more sudden change than early in the season. At this point in the season, it is hard to have patience."

The Giants were World Series champions in 2010 and '12 primarily because of the strength of their rotation, and if they are going to get into October again this year, they need help in their rotation.

They aren't going to get Matt Cain back. He underwent right elbow surgery Aug. 11.

Madison Bumgarner (14-8, 3.17 ERA) has assumed the role of the ace. Tim Hudson (9-9, 2.99 ERA) has done what was expected as a veteran off the free-agent market.

Tim Lincecum pitching like Tim Lincecum would provide the perfect trifecta for a stretch drive.

Right now, though the Giants' No. 3 is Ryan Vogelsong (7-9, 3.78 ERA).

Then there is Jake Peavy, who had won back-to-back starts before suffering the 3-2 loss to the Rockies on Monday. Those wins, however, came on the heels of 19 consecutive winless starts -- his first three with the Giants after they acquired him from the Red Sox, where he had gone 16 starts without a win.

And now there is Petit. He has dominated out of the bullpen this season. Petit is 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances. Starting, however, has been a struggle for him this year (1-2, 6.32 ERA in six starts) and throughout his big league career (14-20, 5.08 ERA in 50 starts).

This move, however, isn't about getting Petit into the rotation. It's about getting Lincecum right. It's about banking on a short break from the routine allowing him to clear his mind.

"He has been working hard," said Bochy. "Sometimes you can tinker a little bit too much. You want to get him back to where he was six weeks ago. He was throwing as well as anybody."

Bochy said it is not out of the question that it could be a one-time-through-the-rotation move, and that by the time it is Lincecum's turn again in Colorado on Sept. 2, the right-hander could be starting again.

"More than anything, [the move] gives you a few more days to clear your head, not worry about your next start," said Bochy. "You get two or three side sessions to clear your head, both on the mental side and the physical side."

This isn't a demotion. It is a chance for Lincecum to regroup.

"If you have any self-doubt, it can creep into your head that you are not getting the ball where you want, and you start to press," Bochy said. "This game is such a mental game. It's why with a hitter, a couple days off can change things. In Tim's game, it could be one start."

At least the Giants hope it's just one start.

Tim Lincecum pitching like Tim Lincecum is too vital for the Giants to think he could be out of the rotation much longer.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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