Bay Area Baseball

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May 7, 2013
Lincecum, Giants' rotation searching for consistency

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum's first inning Tuesday was a boiled-down version of his night. He struck out three Phillies hitters, including Carlos Ruiz swinging on a 93 mph fastball and Domonic Brown waving at a changeup. He also allowed a run on two hits and a walk, the first of five the Phillies scored against him in a 6-2 win.

"That's definitely frustrating, just the lack of consistency," Lincecum said. "Making a great pitch and then not repeating it. That's the frustrating part."

Consistency was the keyword for the Giants after the game -- regarding both Lincecum and the rotation in general. Neither has possessed it through the early part of the season. Through the first two games of this series against the Phillies, the Giants' starters have combined for a 4.51 ERA (13th in the N.L.) and 15 quality starts in 33 games.

The rotation has two quality outings in the last 10 games -- a stretch that included the Giants' season-high six-game winning streak. When Matt Cain got his first win of the season Sunday against the Dodgers, it snapped a streak of 11 games without a Giants starter earning a win.

While Madison Bumgarner (3-1, 2.31) has been the Giants' most consistent starter, Cain (1-2, 5.57) and Ryan Vogelsong (1-2, 7.20) haven't been themselves mostly and Barry Zito has given up 10 of the 11 total earned runs he's allowed on the season in two rough starts. Lincecum owns a 4.75 ERA after Tuesday, having allowed no earned runs in two of his starts and four or more in four others.

"It comes down to consistency with the pitching," manager Bruce Bochy said. "And we haven't been quite as consistent as we normally are."

Bochy, unsurprisingly, voiced confidence that the rotation will come around. Their track records are hard to ignore, and as Bochy pointed out, "We've gone through ruts like this. We did last year, where guys haven't been quite as sharp. But once they come out of it and we start getting those consistent quality starts, get their confidence back, I think you'll see a different club."

As he said this, of course, the Giants remained five games above .500 at 19-14 and a half-game out of first place in the N.L. West. Still, the fact that they're in a pretty good place more in spite of than because of their vaunted rotation can't sit well with the starters. And Lincecum said that will likely be addressed among the five.

"I feel like it will be more so, just because it's been put in our minds a little bit more as the forefront of what's been going on, and things that we can do to fix it are easier than not," Lincecum said. "So with that, it's just one of those friendly competitions where we just get back to competing with each other and not worry about the stuff on the field so much."

* Lincecum was visibly and vocally frustrated with his outing. On one hand, he struck out seven and has 45 in 41 2/3 innings this season -- on the other, the Phillies got him for nine hits, including Chase Utley's home run in the fifth. He went seven innings to give the bullpen some rest -- but after the Giants cut the deficit to 3-2, he let the Phillies add runs in the fifth and seventh.

Lincecum said the mistakes he made were an issue of "rhythm, timing of when my front foot's hitting and where my arm's at when it is. I'm not doing it consistently."

There's that word again. The Giants' offense, meanwhile, did nothing against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick outside of the third inning, when Brandon Belt singled, Brandon Crawford doubled and both scored on an Angel Pagan sacrifice fly and Marco Scutaro double, respectively.

The flipside to the excitement factor of the Giants' many comeback wins this season is that they're having to fall behind early in games to do it. And the Phillies, so far, haven't let them claw their way back in.

* The Giants did seem to have a rally building in the fourth, when Buster Posey singled leading off and Hunter Pence reached on an error. Gregor Blanco and Belt both struck out looking, though, and Brandon Crawford hit into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

Blanco said he went up with runners on first and second and no outs willing to carry out whatever order he got from the Giants' dugout. He wasn't given a sign to bunt, and so opted to try to drive a run in. "This opportunity I just didn't do it," he said.

Interestingly, Blanco, who faced Kendrick a few times in 2008 and not since then, said Kendrick's "delivery is different. He's got a quickness (in his delivery). ... It's the same velocity, but the way he's throwing, the ball is kind of sneaky."

Kendrick has been good for the Phillies this season, allowing two earned runs or fewer in six of his first seven starts. He improved to 4-1 on Tuesday night. Blanco said Kendrick was locating well but the Giants also "missed a couple balls, too. He challenged us a lot, but maybe because he was sneaky."

* In his first game back from the bereavement list following the death of his grandmother who raised him, Jose Mijares pitched the final two innings. Mijares struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches and allowed one run on a Ryan Howard homer in the ninth. After pitching a scoreless eighth, he pointed skyward as he left the mound.

"He's not a guy who normally would take two innings, but he did a nice job and again helped give some guys some needed rest down in the pen," Bochy said. "I was proud of him. It's not easy what he had to go through this week. And to come out and do what he did, I thought that was very impressive."

* Reliever George Kontos was in a concerned mood afterward over fellow Northwestern alum J.A. Happ, who was hit in the head by a line drive while pitching for the Blue Jays on Tuesday and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.

Kontos said the two work out together in the offseason. He was checking Twitter and news reports after first hearing of the incident Tuesday trying to piece together what happened.

"He'll be all right," Kontos said. "He's a tough dude. Hopefully he can get through this quickly."

Kontos said it was "easing on the mind a little" to hear that Happ motioned to the crowd as he was leaving the field. Still a scary incident, and one that will no doubt invigorate the discussion of whether pitchers need head protection -- such as lining in their caps -- to avoid serious injuries on comebacker line drives.

* The Giants will try to avoid being swept by the Phillies tomorrow behind Zito, who has allowed one earned run in 26 innings this season at AT&T Park. The Phillies will send out right-hander Jonathan Pettibone, who started the season in Triple-A but is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA since being called up in April.

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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