While Bruce Bochy was right to put his struggling ex-ace Tim Lincecum in the bullpen for the San Francisco Giants' five-game series win against the Cincinnati Reds, he needs his two-time Cy Young Award winner to retake his mantle as the team's go-to starter.
The fact that Lincecum accepted his demotion so graciously underlines his understanding of what it takes to be a good teammate.
He told Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday:
I’m not going to be the guy throwing a tantrum because I’m not getting what I want. It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’ve done lately. I understand the way I’ve been going.
As a result, Lincecum pitched twice in long relief for the Giants, allowing just one run in 6.1 innings.
He was also the winning pitcher in Game 4.
Yes, it would be a start on three-days' rest from his last appearance, but he only went 4.1 innings in that effort and threw 55 pitches in getting those 13 outs.
With the way the playoffs work these days, the chances of any pitcher starting Games 1, 4 and 7 are gone, but using Lincecum to start Game 1 would allow him to pitch Game 5 on full rest, and Matt Cain, this year's ace, would be lined up to pitch Game 3 and Game 7 if necessary.
Lincecum's 1.48 ERA in the NLDS—even with the small 6.1-inning sample—points to the hope for him and the Giants that he may have worked out some of the issues that plagued him through this season.
Lincecum's problem this year was his propensity for walks, averaging 4.4 per nine innings. In his 6.1 innings this week, he did not walk anybody and struck out eight.
If it is the Cardinals that do indeed advance, then the NLCS would start in San Francisco and Lincecum would be able to use San Francisco's home-field advantage to the fullest.
Regardless, if the Giants are to make another World Series, they need Tim to pitch very well.
No better way to see where he is than giving him the ball to start Game 1.
*Statistics via baseball-reference.com