Lincecum eyes success past 100th start

Lincecum eyes success past 100th start

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum might be known as The Freak, but he's also no fool.

The Giants right-hander has sustained almost unparalleled success as he approaches his 100th career start, which happens to be a marquee matchup against Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday. Numerous statistics, along with Lincecum's status as the only pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in each of his first two full Major League seasons, reflect the breadth of his effectiveness.

Yet, Lincecum knows that he must work harder to attain similar proficiency in his next 100 outings and beyond. He already has compensated for a decelerated fastball, which he once threw at close to 100 mph but now travels in the low 90-mph range, by mastering an impressive array of offspeed pitches. Continuing to evolve and adapt will be essential to any longevity Lincecum might achieve.

Lincecum said earlier this week that he "had no idea" that his odometer was set to turn over at 100 starts. But he instantly found significance in the mini-milestone.

"You can use it as a gauge to see how your body feels," said Lincecum, who turns 26 next month. "You're going to go through these first few years a little differently than your next four years and the four years after that. It gets back to learning how to take care of yourself. These last few years, in the time that I've had those hundred starts, I've gotten to know myself a lot better, physically and mechanically.

"I'm not saying I've perfected everything. Every time I go out there, I'm working on something. I'm aware of my mechanics. ... It all comes back to taking care of yourself. It makes me want to learn anatomy a little bit more. Why not know more about yourself? The more you know yourself, the more you can help yourself."

Lincecum has been much less than perfect recently, which might foretell the challenges he rarely has encountered so far but might face more frequently in the future. He has allowed 11 runs in 9 2/3 innings spanning his past two starts, hiking his ERA from 1.75 to 3.00. He has walked five batters in each of his past three outings. Lincecum was clearly discombobulated against Washington in his last start, when he permitted six runs for the first time since Sept. 23, 2008, as well as four stolen bases.

This wasn't the kind of performance that caused Lincecum to be nicknamed "The Freak" and "Seabiscuit" for the ability that exceeds his 5-foot-11, 163-pound stature.

"It's completely frustrating," Lincecum said after facing the Nationals. "At the same time, as I've said to you guys before, we have a lot of games. I don't want to beat myself up over it. I have plenty of other outings to go through. I say time and time again, try to go back to the chalkboard and try to figure it out."

Lincecum's previous "chalkboard" visits have helped. He proved that after his 2007 rookie season by complementing his fastball with a changeup, which he has called a modified split-finger fastball.

Lowest ERA for active pitchers in first 100 career starts
Tim Lincecum (99 starts) 2.92
Barry Zito 3.00
Roy Oswalt 3.12
Carlos Zambrano 3.21
Rich Harden 3.28
Johan Santana 3.32
Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau

"It's as dominant a pitch as any in the game," San Diego third baseman Chase Headley said.

Lincecum's curveball and slider enhance his array of deliveries.

"I'm becoming more of an all-around pitcher," Lincecum said. "There are days when my fastball's going to be a little better and some days when my fastball's not going to be that great, and I'm going to have to work around that. I'm trying to be prepared for any event or situation I run into. You know how people say, 'I wish I would have known now what I did later?' Well, I'm trying to know now."

Still, Lincecum acknowledged that his diminished fastball has nagged him.

"I'm not worried about it, but it's in the back of my mind," he said. "I'm aware of the fact that my fastball isn't 95 anymore. I'm not saying I don't feel like it's going to end up to the point where I can't get there, but it just isn't that way right now."

Most strikeouts for active pitchers in first 100 career starts
Tim Lincecum (99 starts) 752
Kerry Wood 717
Johan Santana 680
Scott Kazmir 627
Oliver Perez 617
Jake Peavy 602
Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau

Said Giants catcher Bengie Molina, who has teamed with Lincecum during his entire career: "I know he's probably a little worried about his velocity and stuff like that, but he should learn quickly to pitch with what he has that certain day."

Observers universally agreed that Lincecum, 5-1 this year and 45-18 lifetime (including a 2008 victory in his lone relief appearance), can thrive without overpowering hitters.

Hall of Fame right-hander Jim Palmer, now a Baltimore Orioles broadcaster, identified with Lincecum. Like the Giants ace, Palmer captured consecutive Cy Young Awards in 1975-76. A winner of three Cy Young Awards overall, Palmer also gradually lost velocity, but he nearly garnered a fourth Cy Young in 1982 by finishing 15-5 while throwing his fastball around 89-90 mph.

"People think that when you win Cy Young Awards, you have to be perfect," said Palmer, an eight-time 20-game winner. "It's not about the radar gun. At the end of the day, if you lose velocity, it's not like you have to jump overboard. You want to know how the batters are reacting to you, and if you still have three or four pitches, it can be pretty comfortable."

MLB Network commentator Mitch Williams, a former All-Star closer, pointed out that Lincecum's diversity of deliveries gives him an edge that eludes many young power pitchers.

Highest winning percentage for active pitchers in first 100 career starts
Pitcher Winning % Record
Jon Lester 0.719 46-18
Barry Zito 0.711 54-22
Tim Lincecum (99 starts) 0.710 44-18
Johan Santana 0.699 51-22
Tim Hudson 0.693 52-23
Freddy Garcia 0.689 51-23
Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau

"Once you learn how to pitch and you have the kind of stuff that Tim Lincecum has, you become very dangerous," Williams said. "It takes a lot of guys into their mid-30s to figure things out."

The mental process has just begun for Lincecum. Winning the constant guessing game against hitters will become more crucial for him if he's to remain elite. Williams described the process as "figuring out the four pitches he does have, when to use them and what hitters to throw them to."

"The hitters are going to have tougher and tougher and tougher at-bats against him," Molina warned. "It's not going to stop. A lot of hitters take it as a challenge when they face a type of pitcher like him. They think, 'Hey, man, this is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, this is the Freak, this is the guy who they talk so much about. I want to get a hit off him. I want to do some damage.'"

An unyielding attitude, Molina said, will help Lincecum counter his rivals.

"Confidence has to tell you what to do," Molina said. "Confidence means that I don't have to throw my changeup to get you out. I don't have to throw you my fastball all the time to get you out. I have to have my confidence to throw any pitch at any time. I think that's what's going to make the difference."

Lincecum fully intends to do what's necessary to stay at an All-Star level.

"I think it's my natural competitiveness that makes it that way, a 'find the way or get out of the way' kind of thing," he said.

Lincecum's accomplishments demonstrate that locating the right path has been a habit for him.

"He doesn't see ahead. He doesn't see behind. The only thing he sees is right now," Molina said. "That's what makes him so good."

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.