SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tim Lincecum stayed under cover on the dugout steps and quickly assessed the heavy rain soaking the San Francisco Giants’ spring training field.
Then he was off, headed to the weight room for a workout. Entering his third full major league season, the two-time reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner knows he needs to take his routine up a notch to maintain his dominance on the mound.
This isn’t a revelation that came to him overnight, but rather over the recent months.
Lincecum experienced an offseason of highs and lows. There was his marijuana arrest back home in Washington state only a few weeks before he received his second Cy Young Award. There were awards dinners and court appearances.
“It was a pretty crazy offseason,” he said.
Lincecum believes he’s grown up through all of it.
The 25-year-old right-hander has a new perspective on baseball and his career, a maturity that largely came about following his legal trouble. Manager Bruce Bochy has noticed and so has the owner and Giants’ brass, which last month rewarded Lincecum with a $23 million, two-year contract.
“I think Timmy knows as good as he is, he’s got room for improvement,” Bochy said. “He’s been working on some things since he’s been here, and in a more serious manner. That is part of maturing as a player. I think he understands you never arrive as a player.”
Lincecum has apologized every which way for embarrassing himself and his franchise. He has committed to being a more responsible, better person going forward. Lincecum even trimmed several inches off his grunge-style hairdo this winter because it was getting a little unhealthy. His father, Chris, told him he’d look more professional going to a salary arbitration hearing that wound up never happening.
“I was awe-struck when I first got up here, just glad to be here, hopefully doing the work I needed to do, but really not knowing what it was going toward,” Lincecum said. “As opposed to now knowing what I need to do and what it takes.”
He sure is speaking like a veteran these days, going on five months after he was pulled over in southwest Washington state.
So far, Lincecum is still trying to find his groove at spring training with an ERA of 9.82 after two subpar outings against the Mariners, the team he rooted for growing up in Seattle.
Yet that’s not of much concern around the club. Everybody knows Lincecum will be ready.
The guy called “Franchise” or “Freak” by his teammates has been baseball’s most dominant pitcher the past two seasons. He talks about finding his “beat” out there, starting from his feet and moving up to maintain a balance.
He’s got his share of quirks, from wearing a lucky pair of jeans for 10 straight days to pulling on a beanie hat in the middle of summer.
“Whether you’re Felix (Hernandez), whether you’re Pedro Martinez in his prime, everybody always feels they can do something better or refine some part of their game,” Lincecum said. “I’m trying to be as positive as possible and just keep in mind that this is spring training, it’s not the season. This is about getting ready for the season.”
Lincecum recorded an N.L.-best 261 strikeouts last year and tied for the league lead with four complete games and two shutouts. He went 15-7 with a 2.48 ERA in 32 starts and 2251/3 innings. That came after his breakout 2008 campaign.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and a generous 170 pounds – tiny by today’s standards for a big league pitcher – Lincecum was 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a major league-best 265 strikeouts in ’08. He was the Giants’ top pick in 2006, selected 10th overall out of the University of Washington, and made a rapid rise to the majors. His big league debut came only about 10 months after he signed.
Lincecum is set on building on two sensational seasons, knowing how hard that will be. Tweaking his routine is a first step.
“I’m still learning to do that right now,” he said. “You’re always going to have to make changes, I’m not saying anything drastic. Just how you deal with yourself and your health. As you get older and you throw more innings, the maintenance becomes more rigorous, the maintenance becomes more important.”
Chicago White Sox infielder and 11-time Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel, who played behind Lincecum in his first Cy Young season two years ago, believes Lincecum has no choice. His funky, unconventional delivery, which looks downright uncomfortable at times, will likely take a toll over time.
“It’s going to be a challenge for him maybe later on in his career when he hits 28, 29, 30 years old, to see how his body reacts,” Vizquel said. “Right now he’s young, he’s just throwing the ball, he doesn’t care about mechanics. A pitcher that is 170 pounds and is short and he throws 95-96 (mph), I don’t know what kind of toll it’s going to take on his body. I think right now he’s just having and fun and he doesn’t realize what’s coming up in the future. … There’s no doubt he has a great arm. There aren’t many arms like his. It doesn’t surprise me what he’s been doing.”
For years Lincecum has dealt with skeptics who questioned his size and atypical approach.
“I’m tired of people doubting my size,” he said, “ ‘Is he going to break down just because he’s skinny?’ ”
Lincecum has put the pot bust behind him. He agreed to pay $513 to resolve the charges stemming from his traffic stop on Oct. 30. The charges were reduced to a civil infraction. He paid a speeding ticket separately.