The last time Tim Lincecum pitched in Fresno, Calif. was in 2007. That would also be the year where he gets called up to the San Francisco Giants and start a remarkable push toward back-to-back Cy Young awards.
Fast forward to Jun. 12, 2016—nearly 10 years later. Tim Lincecum is now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, having signed a 1 year/$2.5m contract in May. He made his first starts in the year in Triple-A with the Salt Lake Bees, in Reno and in Tacoma. Then came his third start: Fresno¹.
With a sea of orange and black in the stands, Lincecum took the mound. Fans, all donning old Lincecum gear from his days with the Giants², stood and applauded.
Though he didn’t hit 90 on the radar gun³, he showed flashes of his Cy Young-self. The fastball sat at 87-89 MPH, being thrown straight and narrow. At times, there were still life to it, showing movement right as it crossed the plate. It was thrown in the zone most of the time, hitting catcher Anthony Bemboom’s target.
The curveball sat in the low-70s. Though slow, it was big and looping, looking like a treu 12-6 curve. It would start high, then fall into place as it gets closer to the plate, falling in for a low strike or a ball, getting batters to chase.
The true star of the evening was the changeup⁴. Sitting between 81-85 MPH, it fooled batters and made them look silly. Lincecum notched three swinging strikeouts in the first inning. The pitch that did batters in? The changeup.
Just like changeups do, it looks like a fastball at first, only being distinguishable due to its velocity. Then, it breaks. For Lincecum’s changeup, the break occurs halfway through the trajectory to home plate. It breaks, then fools. Batters are caught off-guard and swing, because they were expecting the pitch before it broke, not realizing that when they swing, the pitch is low around their legs.
These are Triple-A batters, sure, and maybe they’ve never faced a two-time Cy Young winner, sure, but Lincecum’s stuff was there and he’s got the strikeouts to prove it.
What was even more impressive was that Lincecum did not allow a walk until the fourth inning, nor a hit until the sixth. Maybe it was the humid air that helped the pitches, or the large ballpark, but you can’t really dismiss the fact that Lincecum, who once threw walks on walks on walks and gave up a hit parade, held batters to one hit, one walk. In a hitter-friendly league, that’s a testament to his control and command.
His day was over after seven, leaving the game to thunderous applause in a 0-0 tie. He struck out eight on 89 pitches, 57 of those were for strikes. Around the bottom of eighth inning, the crowd started cheering again, just because Lincecum was walking around the carved out pathway between dugouts in front of the stands. Fans started looking for high fives as he made his way through and Lincecum obliged.
The Fresno Grizzlies would end up with the win, when the winning run was given up in that bottom of the eighth and there was nothing doing in the top of the ninth. That didn’t seem to matter to most in the crowd, though. They came to see Lincecum and what they got was a masterful performance with numerous shades of his heyday self.
¹The Fresno Grizzlies were the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate from 1998-2014. They are now a Houston Astros affiliate.
²Fresno, Calif. is approximately three hours away from San Francisco. Close enough for fans to go if they really wanted to, though not as close as the Giants’ new Triple-A affiliate, Sacramento.
³Take this with a grain of salt. Though stadium radar guns can give you the idea of where a pitcher’s velocity is, it is usually +/- 1-2 MPH off.
⁴Full disclaimer: Lincecum’s changeup is the reason I fell in love with baseball and, more specifically, pitching. Excuse me if I wax poetic about it.