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.

Albert Pujols is eighth on the all-time home run list

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Albert Pujols kicked things off for the Angels in dramatic fashion on Friday night, cranking a two-RBI home run off of the Orioles’ Jeremy Hellickson to give the club an early lead in the first inning. The 350-footer was his 18th home run of the year and No. 609 in his 17-season career, tying Sammy Sosa on the all-time home run list for eighth overall and most home runs hit by a player born outside of the United States.

With the home run, Pujols sits just three homers shy of tying Jim Thome’s 612-home run record for seventh on the all-time list. That figures to be the last major milestone still ahead of the designated hitter this season, with Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630-home run mark still a distant 21 blasts away.

The Angels, meanwhile, ran with Pujols’ lead, collecting home runs from Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Kaleb Cowart and Mike Trout. It wasn’t quite enough to quash the Orioles, however, who surged to a 9-7 finale after Manny Machado went 3-for-5 with three home runs and struck a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Nationals place Max Scherzer on 10-day disabled list with neck inflammation

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The Nationals placed right-hander Max Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, the team announced Friday. Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start against the Padres and replaced by left-hander Matt Grace, though an official roster move has yet to be made to fill his spot on the roster. The assignment is retroactive to August 15.

Scherzer experienced a similar pain on the right side of his neck at the start of the month, though this is the first official stint he’ll serve on the disabled list in 2017. While comments from club manager Dusty Baker suggest that the injury wasn’t caused by any particular trauma, it seems likely that the ace right-hander will be sidelined for at least one more start.

It’s a terrible time to lose a star pitcher, especially with the Nationals positioned to make a deep run in the postseason, but their 14-game cushion in the NL East should buy them some time while Scherzer’s on the mend. Prior to his bout of inflammation, the 33-year-old looked remarkably healthy this season. He pitched through his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign and currently boasts a 12-5 record in 24 starts, complete with a 2.25 ERA (good for second-best among qualified starters), 2.2 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9 in 160 1/3 innings.