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.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.