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.