SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean expressed the thought that must have occurred to anybody striving to take a big-picture look at Tim Lincecum's lofty achievements.
"I don't say this tongue-in-cheek," Sabean said Thursday, "but where do we go from here?"
Anywhere, it seems. At 25, Lincecum is as vulnerable as any athlete to injuries, distractions or bad luck that can derail a career. But by winning the National League Cy Young Award in each of his first two full seasons, Lincecum inspires predictions about his future that sound more legitimate than hyperbolic.
"He has a chance to be one of the greatest of all time," MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds said. "He pitches in a pitcher's park, he's with a club that's on the rise and he can handle stardom. He doesn't get caught up in the hype of how good he is."
"Great players never stop trying to improve," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I don't think there's a ceiling on how good this kid can be."
Or, as Lincecum said, "It comes back to being a student of the game and never settling."
Lincecum indeed considers himself a work in progress, despite his accomplishments. "He's not afraid to try something that will make himself better," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "He'll make a mistake, but he learns from it right away. There's many guys that I coached over the years who you have to keep telling them, pounding something into them. You don't have to pound as long with Tim if he sees that there's going to be something good to come out of it."
Bochy cited a June 29 game at St. Louis as an example of Lincecum's aptitude. Bochy recalled that the Cardinals hitters tried to take an aggressive approach by swinging at Lincecum's fastball if they saw it early in the count, denying him the opportunity to throw his devastating changeup. Lincecum recognized this and simply adjusted his pitching pattern. Result: a two-hit shutout, garnished by no walks and eight strikeouts.
NL Cy Young Award Voting
Tim Lincecum, SF
Chris Carpenter, STL
Adam Wainwright, STL
Javier Vazquez, ATL
Dan Haren, ARI
Citing Lincecum's competitiveness, Righetti offered an answer to Sabean's "where do we go from here?" query.
"I think we win," Righetti said, comparing Lincecum to some of the game's legendary pitchers whose statistics were exceeded only by their desire for championships.
"Your goal always needs to stay with winning," Righetti said. "With [Sandy] Koufax I'm sure it was [that way] with the Dodgers, and [Bob] Gibson with the Cardinals and I'm sure [Juan] Marichal pitched like a Cy Young Award winner here for many years and they had great ballclubs. ... I think he's one of those guys. It's all about the wins."
Though the Giants haven't reached the postseason since 2003, four years before Lincecum made his Major League debut, he said that starting this year's All-Star Game provided a hint of the playoff atmosphere he craves.
"You see that kind of atmosphere everybody talks about, with the crowd and the intensity of it," he said. "It kind of opens your eyes to what kind of situations you want to be in. We always talk about winning being the main goal here and getting into the playoffs. ...
"The objective is that World Series ring."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.