Matthew Pouliot

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper makes first career start in leadoff spot

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Bryce Harper has hit mostly third (51 times) and occasionally second (five times) this season, but manager Davey Johnson chose to mix things up today, moving him into the leadoff spot and dropping Denard Span down to seventh.

Obviously, this has more to do with Span’s poor play and the struggles of the Nationals’ offense as a whole than any desire to see Harper hit with fewer men on base. After an excellent first week and a half as a National, Span has hit .246/.293/.341 in his last 78 games. Although he’s been a fixture in the leadoff spot, he’s scored just 32 times in that span.

Harper has hit .265/.372/.526 for the season. The two hole seems like the ideal spot for his bat, but if Span isn’t getting on, the Nats might as well let him with the bases empty and no outs instead of the bases empty and one out. They have rookie Anthony Rendon batting second and Ryan Zimmerman batting third today.

Tim Lincecum could have an interesting Hall of Fame case someday

Tim Lincecum
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With his fastball hovering around 90 mph these days, Tim Lincecum will probably never again be what he was when he first came up. Of course, that’s a remarkably high standard; Lincecum won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons and led the NL in strikeouts three years in a row. From 2007 through 2011, he went 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts in 1,028 innings.

Unfortunately, even after Saturday’s 13-strikeout no-hitter, Lincecum is just 15-24 with a 4.82 ERA the last two years. He led the NL in losses last season, and he’s in the running to do it again if the no-no wasn’t the sign that a larger turnaround is coming. He’s still striking guys out, but he’s allowing more walks and homers in the process.

Just seven years and 84 victories down, we’re still a long way from knowing if Tim Lincecum might go into the Hall of Fame someday. Obviously, he’ll have to bounce back somewhat and hang around long enough to top 150 wins. Two Cy Young Awards will help a bunch, but it doesn’t make him a lock. Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain won two apiece and never received any Hall of Fame support. Johan Santana has two, but if his career is over with a 139 wins, he’s probably not getting in.

One thing in Lincecum’s favor is his postseason record. In 2010, he went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA for the World Series champs. Last year, he never started a game, yet he still played a key role in another championship, amassing a 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings out of the pen. Overall, he’s 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in October.

Right now, Lincecum’s best match would seem to be Orel Hershiser. Hershiser was on an obvious Hall of Fame path through six seasons, winning one Cy Young and receiving votes three other times. He was the ace of a championship team in 1988 and set a record for consecutive scoreless innings. Hershiser then blew out his shoulder four starts into year seven and was never the same pitcher afterwards, though he managed to hang around through 2000. Hershiser went 98-64 with a 2.69 ERA in his first six seasons and 106-86 with a 4.17 ERA afterwards.

That didn’t prove to be nearly enough for Hershiser, though. He was named on 11.2 percent of ballots in his first year and then fell off the ballot in his second year. Sadly for him, the standards for the Hall of Fame for starting pitchers are quite a bit higher than they used to be.

If Lincecum can pitch another 10 years and match Hershiser with something close to that 106-86 record, he should have a better shot. For one, the Hall of Fame standards will probably change a bit by then. Second, all of those sexy strikeouts should help. Lincecum has 1,442 right now, and he’ll finish the season at least third all-time in strikeouts through seven seasons. Only Tom Seaver (1,655) and maybe Bert Blyleven (1,546) will have more. The lone pitcher with a higher K rate through seven seasons (min. 1,000 innings) is Kerry Wood.

But first, Lincecum has to get to 160-170 wins or so. The lowest total of any starter in the Hall of Fame is 150 for Dizzy Dean. Addie Joss (160) and Sandy Koufax (165) are the only to other two under 175. Of the last 12 starters elected to the Hall of Fame, the lowest win total is Catfish Hunter’s 224. That Curt Schilling has just 216 is being held against him. Excellent pitchers like Kevin Brown (211), David Cone (194) and Dave Stieb (168) had their candidacies dismissed out of hand. Things will change some by 2025 and pitchers with more modest win totals should again be taken seriously. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Tim Lincecum hurls no-hitter against Padres

Tim Lincecum
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It took a whopping 148 pitches, but Tim Lincecum recorded his first career no-hitter Saturday in the Giants’ 9-0 victory over the Padres.

It was the most pitches thrown in a game since Edwin Jackson got to 149 in his no-hitter for the Diamondbacks on June 25, 2010 and the second most since 2005. Lincecum’s previous career high was 138 pitches in a four-hit shutout, also against the Padres, back on Sept. 13, 2008.

Lincecum struck out 13, matching the second highest total of his career. His previous high was 15 in a complete game against the Pirates in 2009. It was his sixth career shutout.

With the Giants struggling of late — at least until they ran into the Padres — Lincecum’s name has been bandied about as a trade possibility of late. One wonders just how the huge pitch count will play into that. After Jackson threw his 149 pitches in 2010, he went five straight outings without turning in a quality start. Lincecum’s win tonight was his first in his last seven starts, though he did pitched better in June than he did the first two months of the season. The Giants also have the ability to give him plenty of rest after this one, what with the All-Star break set to begin.

But let’s not the pitch count overshadow the performance. Lincecum certainly wasn’t worried; he threw a 3-2 curve to walk Everth Cabrera on his 125th pitch of the night in the eighth. Alexi Amarista then came the closest of any Padre to getting a hit tonight; lining out to a sliding Hunter Pence in right field. It wasn’t only Lincecum’s first shutout in a long time, but it was his first complete game since May 21, 2011, when he pitched a three-hitter against the A’s. It had been almost exactly a year — since July 14, 2012 — that he had lasted more than seven innings in a start.

Lincecum is now 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA for the season. He’s tied for sixth in the NL with 125 strikeouts.