Tim Lincecum's Rocky Start to 2009: What the Heck Is Going On Out There?

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IApril 13, 2009

Coming out of Spring Training, Tim Lincecum admitted he was in a bit of a funk on the mound, but his admission was hard to believe when you look at what he did during some of his outings down in Arizona during spring training.

He was basically the same Lincecum we all came to love over the course of last season while he was on his way to winning the National League Cy Young Award. He was blowing away hitters, raking up strikeouts with ease, making quick and easy work and then called it a day in the desert.

Then, after a battle with the flu midway through the spring schedule, something happened to shake Lincecum’s fantastic start. Instead of breezing through his predetermined pitch count, he was human once again and hitters were actually standing a chance.

Now, two starts into 2009, Lincecum has brought his end-of-spring struggles into games that actually mean something, and because of that, his ERA is now among some of the league's worst.

Doesn’t sound like a reigning Cy Young winner, does it?

Struggling against a Brewers' offense on Opening Day isn't that big of a deal no matter whom you are. Add in the weird situation the Giants were in regarding the weather, being ready to go on time would have been hard to believe.

But when you struggle against a team like San Diego, which was worse than the Giants were offensively last season, it’s another story. In his previous eight starts against the Padres, Lincecum was barely touched, going 3-1 with a ridiculous 0.96 ERA.

Sunday at PETCO was a different story, however, as the Padres pounded out 10 hits against Lincecum—the most he has ever given up in his young career, and for the second straight outing, Lincecum walked almost as many as he struck out.

His fastball command just wasn’t present. The two-run homer he game up to Chase Headly was a fastball meant to be low and inside, yet worked its way up the ladder to a belt-high location and right into the left fielder’s wheel house.

"I'm just not on,” Lincecum said after Sunday’s game. “Something's not clicking and I'm going to figure it out."

And that, my friends, is Exhibit A right from the source as to why Lincecum hasn’t come to close to being the pitcher that everybody knows he can be.

Lincecum never put back-to-back outings like this together at all last season, his ERA never was above 3.0, and pitched less than six innings only four times in 33 starts in 2008.

Yet, with the season he had a year ago, these are the ridiculously high standards that Lincecum has developed in the minds of fans. Defending Cy Young winners aren’t supposed to have starts like this according to baseball fans.

He’s fully aware of that, and might have even set higher standards himself, considering that he wants to only get better, despite the Cy Young on his mantle. If the kid needed any more motivation to be better, turning things around and getting his ERA back where it needs to be is just another thing to light the fire.

Making sure his funk doesn’t become a major slump is something that not only Lincecum wants to prevent, bur also something the Giants don’t need to happen.

After a big offensive output in the season opener, the bats are now coming back to earth against pitchers not named Jeff Suppan. In their four losses this year, the Giants have scored a total of nine runs.

That’s what we were expecting from the Giants this season, and everybody knew that pitching would carry the turnaround to at least get a .500 record.

But with the ace of the staff struggling to find his groove, things will not go as planned.

The panic button is not being pushed just yet in San Francisco, but there are certainly a few eyebrows being raised as to what is going on.

There is no injury situation, but if there was, we would certainly know by now if anything was going on with the prized right arm that Lincecum possesses.

Apparently, it seems as though it’s not just hitters that can bring a slump from the spring to the regular season.