Lincecum enters camp with renewed confidence
Father, son repair mechanics, relationship in effort to reclaim starting role
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There were times this winter when the father had to step outside for a cigarette, figuring it better to rip a heater than to let an argument with his son get too heated. And in those moments, the son would air out his own frustration by firing fastballs at an empty net.
This was how the Lincecum men -- father Chris and son Tim -- learned how to let their differences dissolve as quickly as they'd arise. A quick smoke break for dad, and then it was back to the business of repairing a two-time Cy Young Award winner who had lost his way.
"We both like to butt heads," Tim Lincecum said Wednesday, "and we both like to argue. My dad's always right, and I can't ever convince him that he's wrong. So I'm not going to take that away from him."
What the son instead took away from his offseason was a renewed appreciation for his father -- the man who essentially crafted the unorthodox mechanics that made Tim a "Freak" in both name and numbers -- and a renewed confidence in his mechanics and mindset.
What the father took away from 2 1/2 months' worth of work (49 throwing sessions in all) with his prodigal son was a sense that we're going to see a much different Tim Lincecum in 2015 than we did in 2014.
"This is the most he's ever worked in the offseason since he's been in the Majors," Chris said. "I love the fact that he was so diligent about being there. He wanted to be there, even when he didn't want to be there, when he was tired or sleepy or whatever. This is the first time I've seen him with that chip on his shoulder."
That Timmy, now 30, reported to Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday in great shape and has let his hair grow long again and is optimistic about the year ahead makes him the typical first-day-of-Spring-Training tale.
Yet the father-son element -- a sort of Springsteenian repairing of relations between two men who were "too much of the same kind" -- adds nuance and substance to the story.
Shortly after Tim opened up to a group of reporters on the afternoon of the defending champs' pitchers and catchers report date, his dad sat in the grass outside the stadium, chain-smoking Winstons and talking about those throwing sessions at N-S Performance in Seattle. Some people -- mostly professional pitching coaches -- will shiver at the thought of a guy throwing 49 times in the wake of a full-season slate, but the elder Lincecum has always believed in throwing more, not less. Certainly, his thoughts on pitching have long been considered unorthodox (he likes to say he believes only in icing his Bourbon and Sevens, not the throwing arm), but who among us could possibly argue with where those philosophies took young Timmy?
With his career at a low point at the end of '14, when the Giants essentially made a championship run without him, Lincecum himself could no longer argue with the obvious, either. Like so many of us, he had valued his independence in adulthood. He wanted to be his own man. And that meant turning his back on his dad. They'd talk on the phone after his starts, but they hadn't actually worked together since Lincecum was at the University of Washington. And Tim hinted that he let the personal relationship go astray, too.
Chris didn't seem to mind the personal differences nearly as much as the baseball separation.
"Yeah, I'm his father, and that's one hat I wear," he said. "But I'm the guy who taught him how to pitch. That's the other hat. Why not come back to the source that knows? If that was his next-door neighbor or some old coach in high school or whoever, why wouldn't he go back to that source? Well, it's because -- as I'm sure is the case with anybody and their parents -- there's that breaking away or rite of passage. But if he was [mad] at the dad, that's one thing. He shouldn't have stayed away from the coach."
Timmy said going back to his dad a couple weeks after the Giants' third parade in five years was one of those "tail between the legs" moments we all have in life, but it was worth it. His dad is a stickler for detail, documenting and videotaping every pitch thrown in that Seattle gym and making it known to his son every time the delivery was even slightly awry. That discipline was something Lincecum freely admits was lacking, and the stats from his last three seasons -- a 4.76 ERA and adjusted ERA+ 27 points below league average -- make it clear something had to change in order for Lincecum to return to his old numerical norms.
"[Chris] knows my mechanics even better than me," Lincecum said. "They've been out of whack for a while now. I think repetition is the big thing for me. Going out there and continuing to do the right mechanics and knowing why they're doing it is another big thing for me. Growing up with my dad, we talked about how it was more that I listened to what he said as opposed to knowing what he meant, and I think this year I got a bigger understanding of my mechanics and why my body needs to be in certain positions."
It's probably not a stretch to say the Giants -- even with a stash of starters supposedly seven deep -- could have a lot riding on the results of this reunion. Madison Bumgarner was the star of October, but it remains to be seen if the workload that accompanied that starring role comes at a cost in 2015. More to the point, Tim Hudson and Matt Cain are both coming off surgical procedures, Jake Peavy was running on fumes by the end of October, Ryan Vogelsong isn't getting any younger and Yusmeiro Petit might be better situated to a long-relief role.
Lincecum might actually be the biggest question mark of them all, and the ongoing question among some evaluators is whether he, too, might be better suited to a relief role at this stage of his career. But the Giants -- publicly, anyway -- have been adamant all winter that Timmy is and will be in the rotation, and the work he was putting in behind the scenes adds some credence to that confidence.
We'll see if this sappy spring storyline morphs into regular-season reality, if Lincecum's winter work is as positive in public practice. But it was hard not to listen to father and son alike on Wednesday and not come to the conclusion that "The Freak" is in a really good place -- physically, mentally, mechanically and emotionally.
Once again, Chris was lighting up a cigarette outside the building where his son goes to work. Only this time, this wasn't a timeout because the two were butting heads. In fact, on the subject of Lincecum's 2015 potential, father and son are very much in agreement.
"This," Chris said, "is a good year for him."