RENO — San Francisco Giants fans are all over the West Coast, and it showed on Tuesday afternoon when 10,185 crammed into Greater Nevada Field to see former Giant and Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum make his second comeback appearance of the season.
The 31-year-old right-hander, coming off hip surgery nine months ago, gave up four first-inning runs but bounced back to retire 14 of the last 15 batters he faced in Salt Lake’s 11-2 loss to the Reno Aces. He threw five innings, allowing two earned runs, three hits and he struck out six.
Lincecum was always a crowd favorite in San Francisco, and it showed before, during and after his 95-pitch effort. Fans watched his every move. They lined both sides of the tunnel asking for autographs and hoping to engage him in pre-game conversation. There was a big crowd above the bullpen shouting words of encouragement as he warmed up before the game, and he received nice ovations after each of his four scoreless innings of work.
Just like his debut at Tacoma five days ago, the first inning wasn’t kind to Lincecum, who threw several pitches in the 90s, but was mostly in the 80s.
The veteran right-hander was the victim of two first-inning errors and back-to-back walks. The big blow was a two-run single by Kyle Jensen. When the smoke cleared, Lincecum and the Bees were in a 4-0 hole.
“The first inning was kind of rough, just like at Tacoma,” said Lincecum, who also gave up two first-inning runs in his home state. “I’ve got to trust my stuff from the get-go. As the game went on, I got locked in. I’ve got to get locked in earlier.
“The last four innings I thought I pitched better. I’m a rhythm kind of guy. From the second inning on, I was hitting my spots better.”
In that four-inning span, Peter O’Brien was the only Aces player to reach base. He retired the side in order in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
Lincecum is in the second year of re-making himself into a pitcher and not a thrower. The mid-90s fastballs are a thing of the past, never to be seen again. If Lincecum is going to make a successful comeback it’s going to be on guile and movement.
“I’m just trying to stay within myself,” he said. “I don’t throw 95-96 anymore. I’m ready. I’m not used to being away from the game for this long.”
The impressive thing about Lincecum was he was economical after the 41-pitch first inning. He threw 54 pitches over the next four innings. He was pitching to both sides of the plate, and he had good command of his off-speed pitches.
“He looked pretty good,” said Aces lead-off hitter Mike Freeman, who struck out twice against Lincecum. “You could definitely tell he knew what he was doing out there. He had a lot of confidence throwing his off-speed. He threw me a 3-2 off-speed that looked like it had split-finger spin.
“It was pretty cool (to face him). It was a chance to see how you stack up. I didn’t feel like I was overmatched or anything. He definitely knew how to pitch.”
It was expected that this would be Lincecum’s last PCL appearance, but after the game he told reporters he was going to ask for another start before he joined the Angels. It was originally thought he would start against Cleveland on June 12, but now it appeared he would face the Athletics in the Bay Area the following weekend.