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Lincecum leans on fastball to get work in

Lincecum leans on fastball to get work in

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With two exhibition starts remaining before his Opening Day assignment, Tim Lincecum continued to strengthen his pitching foundation Sunday.

Instead of making the four-hour round-trip to Tucson to face the Arizona Diamondbacks with the rest of the Giants, Lincecum stayed on his work schedule by lasting 5 2/3 shutout innings in a Minor League intrasquad game and threw almost exclusively fastballs and changeups. The Giants ace explained that he fired fastball after fastball out of necessity more than simplicity.

"I need to get my fastball back," Lincecum said, recalling previous outings this spring in which he threw large percentages of offspeed deliveries. "I'm not getting my arm ready for throwing a lot of fastballs. That's where all my pitches work off of, fastball location. I think any Major League pitcher will tell you that."

Facing a contingent of Double-A Richmond hitters while siding with Triple-A Fresno, Lincecum tossed just one curveball. It was his 95th and final pitch, which Roger Kieschnick whacked into right-center field for a triple. Having reached his pitch allotment, Lincecum was excused for the afternoon.

Lincecum owns a 9.39 ERA in three Cactus League outings, having allowed 12 hits and 11 runs (eight earned) in 7 2/3 innings while walking eight and striking out nine. His control remained spotty against the Richmond hitters, resulting in five walks. But he yielded only three hits and struck out six, mostly with his irresistible changeup.

"Today was a lot better," Lincecum said.

Buster Posey, Lincecum's catcher, concurred. "His fastball was jumping," Posey said.

Incidentally, Lincecum enjoyed collaborating with the Giants' catcher of the future.

"He was giving me feedback, letting me know if I was pulling my shoulder out or if he saw the two-seamer going too far this way or that way," the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner said.

Lincecum still sees ample room for improvement. He complained about missing vertically with his fastball and sounded far from satisfied with his pitching mechanics, which are intricate to say the least.

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"I have a lot of moving parts," Lincecum said, reaffirming what's known to all who have seen him perform, "and I try to get everything into it."

The right-hander remained vexed by his front (left) leg, which has absorbed too many stiff landings. This has prevented Lincecum from "getting over" the leg and finishing his motion properly. Repeating one of the personal fundamentals he learned from his father, Chris, Lincecum cited the image of being able to scrape a dollar bill off the ground as he completes a pitch. Lately, Lincecum said, he has left plenty of money unclaimed due to his rigid leg.

"My dad always said, work from your feet up," Lincecum said. "I have to gather up all that energy before I can release it. ... Just finding the right timing with all the moving pieces."

Lincecum endured similar mechanical woes as the 2009 regular season began. He posted a 7.56 ERA with 10 strikeouts and six walks in 8 1/3 innings spanning his first two starts. Once he corrected his flaws, he surrendered one run in 16 innings over two starts, striking out 25 and walking one.

Major League pitchers, even elite ones such as Lincecum, often absorb a pounding when they confront Minor Leaguers. The farmhands tend to swing at the first good pitch they see and can't be set up, as big league pitchers habitually do.

Lincecum avoided this fate, though he never pitched a perfect inning. He walked the first two hitters he faced before striking out Thomas Neal and coaxing Kieschnick's shallow fly, which right fielder Joe Borchard caught before throwing home to complete an inning-ending double play.

Lincecum recorded a pair of strikeouts in the second inning, offsetting a single and a four-pitch walk. He walked a batter in the third inning, survived Kieschnick's leadoff double in the fourth ("He looks like a bigger Chase Utley to me," Lincecum said of the right-field prospect) and stranded a runner on second base in the fifth.

To that point, Lincecum had thrown 79 pitches but stayed in the game after conferring briefly with Posey and Triple-A pitching coach Pat Rice. Lincecum wanted to finish the sixth inning, but was denied by his elevated pitch count and Kieschnick's second hit. One batter earlier, Lincecum provided blooper-reel material by throwing what should have been a fastball, but the ball slipped from his grasp and trickled toward the first-base line.

"I don't know how to explain that one," Lincecum said. "It was a grenade. It just popped out of my hand. I was trying to grip the ball really loosely. It was a little too loose."

Lincecum likely will make his final tuneups against established Major Leaguers. Assuming the Giants stay on schedule, Lincecum will face the Los Angeles Angels on Friday and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the March 31 Cactus League finale. Then comes the April 5 season opener at Houston.

That game against the Dodgers will mark Lincecum's lone exhibition outing against NL competition.

"[The Giants] have always kind of shied away from pitching me against too many National League teams since I've been here," Lincecum said. "They're probably just sticking with that whole approach. I'm just trying to get ready and not worry about it.

"... Right now it's not about what they're doing to my pitches. It's about how I'm throwing my pitches."

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

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