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April 20, 2013
Playing the aggressor, Lincecum has best start of early season

SAN FRANCISCO -- That the Giants were 3-0 in Tim Lincecum's starts this year before Saturday was as much a product of their scoring 24 runs in those games as anything else, twice bailing out the right-hander when he fell victim to the big inning that has haunted him insistently since the beginning of last year.

That was not the case Saturday night. Lincecum was sharp from the first inning in the Giants' 2-0 win over the Padres, he commanded his fastball well for most of the night and he avoided the lapses in focus that have contributed to those snowball innings. No pitch was bigger than the 3-1 fastball he threw to Chase Headley with the bases loaded and two outs in the third, which jammed Headley resulting in a groundout. That pitch is the focus of tomorrow's print story.

As for the other 94 pitches that Lincecum threw over his 6 2/3 shutout innings, there were few mistakes. Lincecum struck out a season-high eight and allowed four hits, all singles. It was the first time Lincecum has gone at least that far into a game without giving up a run since last July 14. The Giants, who are now 4-0 in his starts this season, recorded their fourth win in a Lincecum start last year on June 27.

"It's great for Timmy, great for us," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had good command tonight, a good fastball, and he had the other pitches going with it. I think more than anything he just got in a good rhythm, hit his spots, and that's what Timmy's been doing except for the one inning that's gotten away from him."

The brisk 2:22 time of game spoke to Lincecum's tempo. Lincecum said he made a point of being more aggressive in the strike zone and sticking to the game plan he established with catcher Buster Posey before the game.

"I think it just goes back to easing things up before you throw the pitch and just kind of visualizing what you want to do with it before," Lincecum said. "That's just kind of what I went out there today with -- a purpose and knowing every pitch has got a meaning to it."

Posey, who was behind the plate for a regular-season Lincecum start for the first time since last August, said he had a sense "early on" it would be a good night for Lincecum. "Just did a good job of pounding the zone," Posey said. "The fastball was sharp and he was throwing it down in the zone."

Lincecum said he and Posey were on the same page virtually the entire night. He credited much of his rhythm to hardly having to shake Posey off.

"You' know that the catcher's on the same page as you, it's not even a question of what he puts down, it's just where he's going to put it, and you're like, yep, here we go," said Lincecum. "So there's tons of confidence when I can go out there and do that.

"You can stick to your game plan and know that it's going to work. It gives you something like a springboard to jump off of instead of going out there aimlessly."

Lincecum said he had no second thoughts when Posey called for a fastball in the 3-1 count to Headley.

"To myself I was thinking, I'm not going to walk this guy," Lincecum said. "I've got to challenge this guy, be aggressive, and that's what I was thinking all day -- I'm not going to try to nitpick around these guys like I have in the past.

"Even if it's down the middle I've got to be aggressive and throw every pitch with a meaning, and I think that was the difference today."

* The sight of Headley jammed on Lincecum's 91 mph fastball in a 3-1 count stood in interesting contrast with Pablo Sandoval's at-bat an inning later, which accounted for the game's only runs. Facing Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner, whose fastball reached 97 mph Saturday, Sandoval fouled off four two-strike pitches, mostly away, before Cashner came inside with a fastball at 96 mph that Sandoval got around on and crushed over the Levi's Landing lettering in right field.

"Great at-bat," Bochy said.

Sandoval said he was "just trying to put the ball in play" with one out and Angel Pagan on second base. "He threw a great pitch, inside high, I got lucky, the ball with the barrel squaring up."

Posey wasn't buying that explanation.

"I just saw the replay," Posey said. "He hit a really tough pitch. I'd hate to have to call pitches to him. It looked like he was beat on three or four pitches and then turned on 96 on the black of the inside corner."

* Sandoval seemed OK after fouling a pitch off the inside of his right ankle in his next at-bat, then coming out of the game in a defensive switch after the half-inning. He went to the ground at the time and was checked by trainer Dave Groeschner before finishing the at-bat.

"He's fine," Bochy said. "I'm sure he's going to be a little sore. ... We'll check on him and see where he's at tomorrow."

* After Lincecum walked John Baker as his last hitter with two outs in the seventh, Bochy again turned to Jose Mijares to face a left-handed hitter in a high-leverage situation. Mijares retired pinch hitter Mark Kotsay on a flyout to right, though Bochy acknowledged after the game Kotsay "just got under it. Probably was a dangerous pitch.

Mijares allowed a leadoff double in the eighth and came out after getting an out. Santiago Casilla came in to face Headley and walked him on four pitches.

"He said there was a big hole in the mound, so the first hitter he had trouble getting the ball where he wanted," Bochy said.

After a visit from pitching coach Dave Righetti, Casilla threw one pitch and got Yonder Alonso to ground into an inning-ending double play, nicely turned by Brandon Crawford, who leapt to avoid Headley's slide.

* Bochy said the tentative plan for Sunday's series finale is to have Posey catch Barry Zito -- but that could change in the morning. Plenty of time -- almost 14 hours! -- before first pitch.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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