The Week Ahead: Timmy to the rescue?

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lincecum_090913.jpgTim Lincecum will take the mound for the San Francisco Giants on Monday after missing his last start with “spasms and inflammation” in his back. His return couldn’t come any sooner.

This is a huge week for San Francisco, a surprise contender this season that is currently on the verge of dropping to the fringe of the playoff race.

The Giants enter the week at 77-66, 7 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, and 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the NL wild-card chase.

With three games at home against Colorado followed by three more in Los Angeles against the Dodgers this week, the time — Giants fans — is now.

Lincecum will go against Colorado’s Jason Hammel on Monday. Then, if everything goes well, he would likely start again on Sunday against the Dodgers’ Jon Garland.

While these will be huge starts for Lincecum, the Giants will also need help from other sources if they are to make up ground. And Lincecum knows it, saying before Sunday’s game that recently acquired Brad Penny was the guy to do it. (He did, indeed, do it, beating the Dodgers on Sunday).

“He’s that guy. He wants to rile people up in the dugout, he’s big on rah-rah and spirit. He wants to get everybody awake. We’ve been pretty lax the last couple of days. I think it’s time for something to kick us in the butt and say, ‘Hey, do you realize it’s frickin’ September?’ We have to turn something on. This is where it counts.”

Well said.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rockies at Giants, Sept. 14-16:
As stated above, Tim Lincecum returns to the mound in a key game for the Giants. Actually the whole series is key as Colorado tries to maintain its hold on the NL wild-card spot.

Marlins at Cardinals, Sept. 14-16: Florida enters the week 5 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race, which makes this a poor time to catch the mighty Cardinals in St. Louis. Suffer a sweep, and that just about does it.

Angels at Red Sox, Sept. 15-17: The Red Sox have had the Angels’ number in the playoffs in recent years, so Los Angeles would be smart to do what it can to keep Boston out of the postseason altogether. Also, some wins would be good with the Rangers lurking 5 ½ games back in the AL West.

Angels at Rangers, Sept. 18-20: Speaking of the Rangers, this series is key for them. The division title might not be realistic, but with the wild card in play, there is plenty to shoot for.

Giants at Dodgers, Sept. 18-20: It’s already a rivalry. Throw playoff implications into the mix, and you’ve got a doozy of a series to watch.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Angels at Red Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.: Rockies at Giants (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Twins (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: Angels at Rangers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cubs at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Reds having Michael Lorenzen prepare as a two-way player

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For decades, a legitimate “two-way player” — a player who functions as both a pitcher and as a position player — was nothing but a fantasy. The skill sets required for both are too distinct and require too much prep work, it was thought. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani shattered that illusion in 2018, posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter while posting a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

Since then, several more players have been considered in two-way roles. The Rangers signed Matt Davidson earlier this month and could potentially use him as a corner infielder as well as a reliever. Also earlier this month, James Loney signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, who plan to use him as both a first baseman and as a pitcher.

You can add Michael Lorenzen of the Reds to that list. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports that the Reds will have Lorenzen prepare this spring as a two-way player. He could both start and relieve while occasionally playing in the outfield. Lorenzen, in fact, took batting practice with the outfielders on Thursday. Previously, he had taken batting practice as extra work following a workout with fellow pitchers.

Lorenzen said, “It’s fantastic, the effort they’re putting in. A lot of the excuses were, ‘You know, we don’t want to overwork him.’ Well, let’s just sit down and talk about it then. They were willing to sit down and talk about it, which is one of the reasons why I love this staff so much and why I think the front office did a great job [hiring] this staff. They’re willing to find solutions for problems.”

New manager David Bell said, “We’ve put together a plan for the whole spring, knowing we can adjust it at any time. We didn’t want to go into each day not knowing what he’s going to do. We all felt better, he did, too. He was part of putting it together.”

Lorenzen, 27, pitched 81 innings last year with a 3.11 ERA and a 54/34 K/BB ratio. He’s one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers as well. Last year, he swatted four homers and knocked in 10 runs in 34 trips to the plate. The last pitcher to hit at least four homers in a season was the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who did it in both 2014 (four) and 2015 (five). Lorenzen also posted a 1.043 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, there have been only 11 pitchers to OPS over 1.000 (min. 30 PA). The only ones to do it in the 2000’s are Lorenzen last year, Micah Owings in 2007 (1.033) and Dontrelle Willis in 2011 (1.032).