By Alex Pavlovic, San Jose Mercury News –
PITTSBURGH—There would be no positive end to Tim Lincecum’s nightmare first half, no signs that his old form will return as the season hits the stretch run.
Lincecum on Sunday lasted just 31/3 innings in a 13-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, his 10th defeat of the season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner heads into the All-Star break with a 6.42 ERA.
“You never want to say I’ve hit rock bottom or anything like that, but when things are going as bad as they are right now you’ve got to go out there with the feeling like you’ve got nothing left to lose,” Lincecum said. “I have to erase this, obviously remember it and use it to know what I don’t want to go through again.
“It’s been terrible. It’s a terrible feeling. When you’re the weakest link, that wears on you.”
A half season full of very un-Lincecum-like pitching lines ended with one of his roughest starts yet: 31/3 innings, seven hits, six earned runs, three strikeouts, two homers allowed.
The Pirates scored two in the first on Andrew McCutchen’s homer and added another when Neil Walker, who had five hits, crushed a blast to center in the third inning. Lincecum was knocked out in the fourth when he gave up a bases-loaded single to opposing pitcher A.J. Burnett.
“I feel like it starts with fastball location—everything kind of works off there,” Lincecum said. “My fastball location has been off the last couple of games, so I’ve been going to my secondary pitches and guys can sit on those when they see me doing that.
“They made the adjustment, and now I’ve got to make the adjustment back.”
The Giants already had announced that Lincecum will take the ball Saturday against the Houston Astros in the second game of the second half, and manager Bruce Bochy said that’s still the plan, despite Sunday’s result.
“It wasn’t good, you saw it,” Bochy said. “He was off and the ball was elevated. He couldn’t get on track. Obviously he’s got to make some adjustments.
“But he has to put this first half behind him. He’s got to regroup—we need him.”
If there’s any hint of a silver lining, it’s that Lincecum will make his next start at home, where he has a 3.99 ERA in eight starts. Away from AT&T Park, the right-hander is 1-6 with a 9.00 ERA. He gave up seven earned runs Tuesday in Washington, lasting just 31/3 innings that day, too.
In 18 first-half starts, Lincecum gave up five-plus runs eight times. He said the mechanical adjustments he has to make are “more about fine tuning,” and reiterated that he’s healthy and has been throughout the first half.
“That’s another confusing thing,” Lincecum said. “Obviously (the team) has faith in me, that’s not the question. I’ve got to trust my stuff and execute.
“One through five we’re pretty good, as far as the staff goes. I don’t want to be the weak link, where everybody thinks you’re going to run into a stump or a bump here.”
The Giants are 4-14 with Lincecum on the mound, but finished the first half 46-40. That mark looked a lot better before a 1-5 road trip against a pair of first-place teams that ended with one of the worst all-around performances of the season.
The Giants had just four hits and made three errors Sunday. Four of the five Giants pitchers to take the mound allowed an earned run as the Pirates piled up 17 hits.
In all, the Giants were outscored 45-21 on the road trip.
“It started out bad and gradually got worse,” Bochy said. “We certainly didn’t want to go into the break limping the way we did.”
—Brandon Belt was out of the starting lineup for just the fifth time in the last 26 games and finished the first half mired in a 7-for-39 slump.
“He’s out of sync,” Bochy said. “His confidence is shaken a bit. He’s not one that chases pitches, and he has been going out of the zone more than we’re accustomed to.”
Bochy maintained, however, that he wouldn’t be making any lineup changes when the second half kicks off Friday.
“We’re in a pretty good position right now,” Bochy said.
Bochy said it was doubtful that Aubrey Huff (sprained right knee) would come off the disabled list in time for the second-half opener.
—Pablo Sandoval hit his eighth homer of the season, providing the Giants’ only runs. Melky Cabrera was 1 for 3 and finished the first half with 119 hits, one shy of Rich Aurilia’s San Francisco-era record for most hits before the All-Star break.