High-profile starting pitchers struggle earlyMINNEAPOLIS — Tim Lincecum still looks the same — a stringy, long-haired, baby-faced demon on the mound, with the same long stride and swooping arm motion the San Francisco ace has always had.
By: Jon Krawczynski, The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Tim Lincecum still looks the same — a stringy, long-haired, baby-faced demon on the mound, with the same long stride and swooping arm motion the San Francisco ace has always had.
Once the ball leaves his hand, though, it has yet to adopt the unhittable nastiness this season that has earned him two NL Cy Young Awards and a nickname, “The Freak.” Quite simply, Lincecum hasn’t been all that freaky this season.
It’s the same with some other pitching stars too.
Josh Johnson looked downright ordinary in Miami before making a mechanical tweak to his delivery. CC Sabathia’s earned-run average is looking bigger than the No. 52 Yankees jersey on his back and Atlanta All-Star Jair Jurrjens isn’t even in the big leagues anymore.
From coast to coast, American League to National, some pretty big-name starters are off to some pretty sluggish starts. It is still very early, and there is plenty of time for them to get rolling. Still, their teams would be a lot better off if they got going. Like, now.
Lincecum is 1-2 with an 8.20 ERA in his first four starts. He gave up 16 runs in his first three games and has already allowed more first-inning runs this year than he did all last season for the Giants.
“It doesn’t matter who you are ... a little self-doubt creeps in there,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants sure don’t seem freaked out because they’ve seen this before. Lincecum, who signed a $40.5 million, two-year deal this offseason, endured a career-worst 0-5 stretch in a winless August in 2010 before he became the winning pitcher in Game 5 of the World Series that fall at Texas as San Francisco pulled off an improbable championship.
The right-hander dropped about 20 pounds from his then-187-pound frame over the winter and changed his diet. He often used to be seen eating junk food such as Philly cheesesteaks and ice cream before starts. Yes, Lincecum’s velocity is down, though scouts aren’t alarmed by that and expect it, actually, as a pitcher’s career goes on.
“Right now, I have a small sample size,” Lincecum said after allowing four runs in the first inning of a loss to Roy Halladay and the Phillies on April 17. “It’s three starts, and I have about 30 or so left. It’s about fixing it and getting it right and being aggressive again.”
Adam Wainwright (0-3, 7.32 ERA as of Friday) is having a heck of a time in his return from Tommy John surgery in St. Louis, Francisco Liriano (0-3, 11.02) has been a massive disappointment in a contract year in Minnesota, Cincinnati’s Mat Latos (1-2, 5.64) isn’t in Petco anymore and Dan Haren (0-1, 4.74) and Ervin Santana (0-4, 7.23) are two of the biggest reasons the Los Angeles Angels lost 13 of their first 19 games.
Jurrjens led the Braves with 13 victories last season despite two stints on the disabled list. But he went 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in his first four starts and was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday.
Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010 and was 3-1 with a staggering 1.64 ERA in nine starts last season before being shut down with shoulder inflammation. His gave up 21 hits in his first two starts before realizing that he had stopped tapping the ball into his glove before throwing it — a tic in his delivery. He started doing it again and was much better in the past two starts, allowing three runs on 10 hits in 13 2-3 innings.
“It’s frustrating because I didn’t catch it before, but that’s part of it,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things I don’t realize that I do.”
The Twins have seemingly tried everything with Liriano — mechanics, delivery, pitch selection — to get him to be the consistent, top-of-the-rotation starter they think his skills merit. After a very impressive spring, he’s been a wreck in the final year before he becomes a free agent. The Twins skipped him in his previous trip through the rotation to give him a chance to regroup.
“Right now, we’re scuffling,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, referring to the entire rotation. “We’ve got to get better performances and more consistent performances or else we’ll kill our bullpen. So we got a lot of work to do with these guys to get them on track. We need them to step up. I think they know that.”
For Latos, there may have been a little added pressure to work through in his first year with the Reds. Cincinnati paid a hefty price — four players, including prized prospect Edinson Volquez — to get Latos from San Diego, and he admitted he was trying a little too hard early to impress his new teammates and fans.
He gave up 21 hits and 14 runs in his first 15 1-3 innings, but finally started to settle in with seven shutout innings in a win over the Giants on April 24.
“It’s like you’re saying, ‘Wow, they traded four players for me,’” Latos said after his last start. “Who’s to say you’re worth four players? But it’s always in the back of your mind that, if you come here and don’t perform, it’s going to be a long season.”
With five months remaining in the season, there is little reason to panic. But if the Giants want to with Lincecum, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would be fine with that.
“He’ll be fine,” Manuel said. “It’s early. He’s going to be fine.
“If they panic and they don’t want him, they can always send him here. I’ll walk over and show him the way over here. I might pick him up and carry him.”