Velocity still down, Tim Lincecum gets hit hard by D-backs

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Tim Lincecum gave up two or more homers just three times in three seasons from 2009-11. He allowed that many in 2012 before his first inning was complete.

Chris Young and Paul Goldschmidt did the damage in the first, and the Diamondbacks tagged Lincecum for five runs in 5 1/3 innings in Friday’s season opener on their way to a 5-4 victory over the Giants.

Lincecum’s diminished velocity was a talking point throughout the spring, and the red flags started waving furiously when he spoke last week about ditching his slider to help keep his arm sound this season. Lincecum’s slider was in evidence today anyway, but his fastball only averaged about 90 mph in his debut.

Lincecum did finish with seven strikeouts anyway, and after the three-run first, he bounced back to pitch four scoreless innings before giving up two runs and coming out in the sixth.

Like it or not, Lincecum’s velocity figures to be a popular subject if he gets off to a slow start this year. When he entered the league, he averaged 93-95 mph with his fastball. However, according to Fangraphs data his average heater slipped from 94.1 mph in 2008 to 92.4 in 2009 and 91.3 in his disappointing 2010. It rebounded lasted year to 92.3, and with it came an improved ERA, going from 3.43 to 2.74.

If Lincecum turns out to be more of an 89-91 mph guy this year, there will probably be some growing pains. He’ll adapt and get outs, but it may take time. The possibility exists that he’ll prove to be the Giants’ third best starter, with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner overtaking him.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.