Tim Lincecum looked like the ace of old through the first 3.1 innings of his final spring training start on Thursday night.
He was filling up the strike zone with all of his pitches. He was in total control on the mound—working a fast pace and commanding all of his pitches.
In the fourth, he gave up a harmless single to Josh Reddick with one out. Then, he hung a changeup to Yoenis Cespedes, who deposited it halfway up the left field bleachers for a mammoth two-run homer.
Lincecum gave up another run in the fifth before giving way to Jeremy Affeldt with two outs. Affeldt promptly allowed both inherited runners to score on a three-run bomb hit by Josh Reddick.
Lincecum went 4.2 innings, allowing five hits, five runs, just one walk and the home run to Cespedes. He struck out six—most of them on his nasty changeup.
He looked dominant at the outset, but he couldn't maintain his rhythm after the homer to Cespedes. Perhaps he tired over his final two innings because of a blister issue that set him back earlier this spring.
Or, it could be that this is the new version of Lincecum. He'll look unhittable at times during each start, but then he'll lose the repetition of his delivery and everything will suddenly unravel.
He certainly flashed the stuff to be an effective starter once again on Thursday night. His fastball sat between 89-92 miles per hour, though he lost some velocity in his final inning of work. It looked like he was also mixing in a 90-92 mile-per-hour cut fastball with sharp movement to his glove side in place of the slider.
His 82-86 mile-per-hour changeup was exceptional with the exception of the hanger to Cespedes. He also flashed a solid 76-78 mile-per-hour curveball that he used to steal strikes with.
He showed good control by pitching ahead in the count most of the night and only walking one hitter while avoiding many three-ball counts. His command was very good for the most part.
As Lincecum showed during the postseason, there's no question that he could be an elite reliever with his current arsenal. However, the Giants have no plans to move their 22-million-dollar man to the bullpen right now.
Thus, the question is whether or not he can succeed as a starting pitcher again. His 5.18 ERA from last year and his 10.57 spring training ERA indicate that he's no longer a starter, but his stuff is clearly good enough to get him back to the ace level he was at in 2011.
In the end, Lincecum's final spring training start left the Giants with more questions than answers.
Other Game Notes
Shortstop Brandon Crawford made two more incredible defensive plays on Thursday night. He made a sliding, back-handed stop in the first inning that nearly resulted in an inning-ending double play. He then made an even better play ranging far to his left and extending all-out to steal a hit—showing off his incredible arm strength to finish the play. Is there a better defensive shortstop in all of baseball right now?
Crawford also doubled and tripled to raise his spring slash line to .373/.424/.610. That isn't likely to carry over to the regular season, but Crawford could match his .260/.327/.370 batting line from the second half of last season. If he hits .260 over a full season and continues his excellent glove work, the Giants will have one of the most valuable shortstops in the NL.
Buster Posey—the reigning batting champion—came to bat three times and hit three line drives. Unfortunately, two of them were caught. Perhaps he's just saving his luck for the games that actually count.
Reliever George Kontos looks primed to take on a bigger role this season after an outstanding 2012 season. He pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts using his 90-93 mile-per-hour fastball and sharp 85 mile-per-hour slider. Unlike most sliders, Kontos' slider drops almost straight down without a lot of movement to his glove side.
He struck out the slugging Cespedes with three impressive sliders. When you can back up a pitch three times against a great hitter like that, you know you have an elite offering.
Affeldt didn't look particularly sharp. His fastball velocity was down around 89-91 and he had problems controlling all of his pitches. He allowed the two inherited runs to score and two more of his own baserunners to come home in 1.1 innings of work.
On the bright side, Jose Mijares looks fully recovered from his elbow injury earlier in spring. His fastball was up to 93 and his slider looked sharp over a scoreless inning of work. He looks ready for the regular season, and so does the rest of the squad.
The main question that went unanswered during spring training is: What can the Giants expect from Lincecum this year? Perhaps they'll know more after his first regular-season start at Dodger Stadium.