Lincecum pitched much better than his numbers indicated on Tuesday night.
Tim Lincecum took the ball in live action for just the second time this spring due to a blister issue, and he looked solid overall. He struck out three and induced five ground balls in 2.2 innings of work before tiring as he neared his pitch limit.
Lincecum looked stronger than he did last season. He clearly added some extra muscle to his frame during the winter. His delivery also looked slightly different. He was extending his arms out a bit more before starting his delivery, which seemed to create less moving parts in his motion.
The stronger build and cleaner delivery allowed him to drive the ball down in the zone most of the night before he allowed hard hit balls to the final two hitters he faced. His changeup—which was clocked between 84-86 mph on the Comcast broadcast—was outstanding on Tuesday.
Two of his three strikeouts came on the change. All the Padres could do with it was swing over the top and miss, or weakly beat it into the ground.
Lincecum also flashed a sharp curve in the 77-78 mph range. His fastball was 92-94 mph in the first inning before tailing off to 89-91 by his third and final inning of work. His command and velocity looked good until he appeared to run out of gas at the end of his outing.
He allowed four hits, a walk and three runs, though two of the hits allowed were on grounders that should have been converted to outs. A weakly hit ball ticked off Lincecum's glove and another got underneath a diving Pablo Sandoval at third base on a play that he probably should have made.
Lincecum just needs to build his stamina back up before the start of the season. Once he does that, the Giants should have their former ace back to where he was two years ago.
Reliever George Kontos, whom the Giants acquired at the end of last spring training in a trade for Chris Stewart, continues to look like an absolute steal. His slider is an elite offering that he can use to get both same-sided hitters and lefties to swing through.
Sergio Romo's slider is even better, but Kontos has more velocity on his fastball, which was up to 93 mph on Tuesday night. Kontos could emerge in the later innings this year after his breakout season in 2012.
On the offensive side of things, two guys battling for roster spots really struggled. Kensuke Tanaka made a brutal throwing error on a routine play to start the game at second base and then nearly airmailed another throw on a similarly routine play.
At the plate, he takes a huge leg kick before slashing at the ball and quickly pulling out of the box. That approach should lead to plenty of contact but little power.
I timed him out of the box to first base on a groundout at 4.1 seconds, so he does have some speed. However, given his lack of arm strength and power, it's hard to envision him making the team as a utility infielder.
Outfielder Cole Gillespie struck out in all three of his plate appearances. He was far too passive at the plate—taking too many called strikes and getting behind in the count.
After a hot start to the spring, Gillespie is now hitting only .242. Francisco Peguero—who is hitting .414—appears to have the upper hand for the final job in the outfield right now. Gillespie's passive approach might work better across the bay in Oakland, where patience is a virtue.
Buster Posey is hitting just .200 so far this spring. When he gets into a slump, it's usually because he's getting out on his front foot and reaching for the ball instead of letting the ball travel to him.
He was out on his front foot in all three at-bats on Tuesday night—though he did bloop in a single. Given his status as the reigning NL MVP, there's obviously nothing to worry about with him.
Hunter Pence continued his second-half problem from last year, pulling his front side out and swinging over the top of breaking balls. Even on the pitches that he took, he was getting off-balance in the box.
Given his long track record of success and relative youth, the Giants should be counting on a major bounce back from him this season. Pence is going to have to get quieter in the box in order to avoid pulling off of breaking balls moving away from him. If he does that, he'll get back to being a .300 hitter again.
Hector Sanchez had a rough night behind the plate with a passed ball, a throwing error and trouble framing pitches. He cost Lincecum at least two strikes by stabbing at curveballs and pulling them out of the zone.
At the plate, he swung through three pitches out of the zone in his first at-bat and continued hacking at everything all night en route to an 0-for-3. He's behind the other players in camp because of a shoulder injury that set him back. Thus, he deserves the benefit of the doubt for now.
Brandon Crawford was 0-for-2 with a walk, but he made the defensive plays of the night. He took a poor feed from Tanaka and made an excellent throw to Posey at first for a double play in the first inning. Later in the game, he went deep in the hole at short and backhanded a tough one-hopper to get an out.
He should battle Atlanta rookie Andrelton Simmons for the National League Gold Glove at short for years to come. Even if Crawford doesn't take a step forward offensively, his excellent glove will continue to make him a valuable asset for the Giants.
The Giants lost on Tuesday night and Lincecum gave up three runs, but that doesn't tell the story. Despite the way his outing ended, Lincecum looks primed to bounce back in 2013.
If he does bounce back to the ace level he pitched at from 2008-2011, the Giants will be back in the postseason to defend their title.