After suffering through a 10-15 regular season with a 5.18 ERA, Giants manager Bruce Bochy opted to relegate Lincecum to the bullpen. He has made five appearances this postseason, and his worst one by far is his only start, a Game 4 loss in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals.
Lincecum was on fire on Wednesday night in front of a raucous home crowd of 42,855 that began to cheer when the fans saw that familiar No. 55 head out to warm up in the Giants' bullpen. Bochy called for Lincecum to replace Zito with a run in, two on and two out in the sixth inning.
Lincecum struck out Jhonny Peralta to end the threat and maintain a five-run lead that was fashioned for the most part on the strength of Pablo Sandoval's record-tying three-home run performance. When Lincecum's 2 1/3-inning stint was over, he had set down all seven Tigers he faced, striking out five of them.
Despite throwing 32 pitches, Lincecum said he had enough adrenaline flowing to come back in Game 2 on Thursday night. Bochy, though, said that wasn't going to happen.
"He could have finished the game," said Bochy, who instead wound up using three more relievers to do that. "We just wanted to save some pitches. He'll be off [on Thursday], and with the travel day [on Friday], he'll be ready to go again in the first game at Detroit."
Lincecum enjoyed so much attention from the media in the clubhouse after the game that he seemed amused after the wave upon wave of reporters finally dissipated.
"I could have sworn I started," Lincecum said.
Lincecum is used to that assignment. He has made 189 regular-season appearances in his six-year big league career, 188 of them starts. When the Giants defeated the Rangers in five games to win the World Series two years ago, the man they call "The Freak" had a featured role.
He made six postseason appearances -- five starts -- and won four of them, including Games 1 and 5 of the World Series.
Zito was the odd man out of the rotation in 2010 and wasn't even on the postseason roster. This year, the roles are reversed, although Lincecum at least has been given a supporting part.
"It's nice to have Timmy available in the bullpen," Bochy said afterward. "He's really done a tremendous job for us, helping us there, filling some innings. He seems comfortable. I think he looked forward to the challenge of coming out of the bullpen."
It's not as if Lincecum had much choice.
In recent days, Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean have said that Lincecum's problems are mechanical. They've added that it might take the offseason and all of Spring Training to implement the changes he needs to make to get back to throwing like the starter who compiled a 69-41 record during his first five seasons in the Giants' rotation.
"It's always easier when you have more time and are in a relaxed situation to correct some mechanics," Bochy said before the game. "When you're pitching in a Major League game, especially when you're in the postseason, you can't be thinking about mechanics."
Lincecum was asked after his outing to assess that particular proposition, and he admitted that in his relief role, he's working out of the stretch and trying to concentrate on the job at hand.
"I've been just trying to simplify things," Lincecum said. "My mentality has been just to get my outs where I need to. That's pretty much all I'm thinking about until I'm done. Yeah, the last thing you want to do is be out there thinking about your mechanics."
Lincecum knows that some high-quality pitchers have made the transition from starter to closer and extended their careers. Dennis Eckersley pitched himself into the Hall of Fame as the first of the one-inning-only closers. John Smoltz went to the 'pen after sustaining shoulder problems. Jake Peavy has said he'd be willing to air it out as a closer after his days as a starter are through.
"Being that it's a short stint, Timmy can let it all go at one time," said Will Clark, the former top-flight Giants first baseman who is a special assistant with the team now. "His location is definitely better. And it looks like he has real good action on his split, too. I don't think that's going to be a long-term deal for him, but for right now, for what we need for this club, that's a niche he's filling, and he's filling it well."
The numbers don't lie. This October, Lincecum is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA as a starter and 1-0 with an 0.84 ERA as a reliever. With his size and the whip-like motion that puts so much strain on his shoulder, perhaps that's where the future lies.
But he's only 28. And according to Lincecum, he's not at that juncture yet.