The buzz starting building Tuesday afternoon following Tim Lincecum’s five-inning start for Salt Lake at Reno.
The former Giants star – on track to join the parent Los Angeles Angels following his second Triple-A start – told reporters he felt he needed one more start before returning to the majors for his first outing since June 27, 2015.
A quick count of days pointed to one thing: Lincecum will be back at Chukchansi Park in Fresno on Sunday to pitch for the first time since his whirlwind Triple-A season in 2007 with the Grizzlies.
In five starts with the Grizzlies spanning 31 innings in 2007, Tim Lincecum allowed just one run.
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In just five starts with the Grizzlies that April, Lincecum delivered a glimpse of the form that made him a star during his nine seasons with San Francisco – including a memorable near-no-hitter in his next-to-last outing in Fresno that led to the Grizzlies manager getting booed by the home crowd.
The Fresno Bee was there to document the rise of “The Freak” (as he was known then), and here are excerpts from the accounts of his last two starts at Chukchansi Park.
April 23, 2007 – No, that’s not an “S” on Fresno pitcher Tim Lincecum’s chest. Turns out it’s just an ordinary Grizzlies patch like all the rest of his teammates wear.
The No. 1 prospect in the Giants’ organization beat Tucson 7-1 Monday at Chukchansi Park, coming within two outs of the first no-hitter in club history.
Lincecum went 6 1/3 innings of the seven-inning first game of a doubleheader. He was pulled after walking Mark Johnson on his 97th pitch.
Manager Dan Rohn drew loud boos from the crowd as he made his way to and from the mound. In between, cheers rang out for Lincecum’s ragged but rich effort in only his fourth Triple-A start.
Rohn had no choice. Fresno’s Man of Steel was on a pitch limit of 95 to 100 set by the Giants.
“I like my job and I’m not going over the limit,” Rohn said. “It’s the first time in my career I’ve had to take a pitcher out who was throwing a no-hitter. We gave him a chance in the seventh. But when he walked that guy ... that was it.”
Matt Erickson broke up the no-hit bid with a single on reliever Billy Sadler’s first pitch. Sadler loaded the bases before striking out Jeff Salazar for the final out.
Lincecum (3-0) was mad at himself, not Rohn, for getting the hook.
“I felt a little frustrated,” said Lincecum, who has a 0.36 ERA in 25 innings. “Not the fact that I had a no-hitter. But that it was my own fault. We got the win. But when I reflect on it, I could have done better.”
It won’t go down as one of Lincecum’s smoothest performances, but it was exciting all the way. Besides not giving up a hit, he struck out four, hit a batter and walked six, one more than his total entering the night. He faced 25 batters and threw 53 strikes and 44 balls.
Tucson touched Lincecum for his first run allowed in the second inning on Erickson’s sacrifice fly after loading the bases on two walks sandwiched around a hit batter.
Grizzlies pitching coach Mike Caldwell gave Lincecum points for fighting through wildness.
“As far as his command, it was the poorest of his four starts,” he said. “The good thing was seeing a young man at a high level continue to compete and get pitches over the plate when he needed to. It’s a shame he wasted so many pitches early.”
Lost in the drama of Lincecum’s flirtation with history was Fresno’s pounding of Tucson pitcher Enrique Gonzalez. Lincecum starred there, too, with his first two hits – singles to center – as a pro.
April 29, 2007 – Tim Lincecum might have faced his mightiest challenge thus far in Triple A after three-hitting Colorado Springs for six shutout innings Sunday afternoon.
After the 3-0 win, kids ran the bases at Chukchansi Park, then passed the Grizzlies’ dugout on their way back to the stands. Lincecum stood at the edge of the dugout and for about 15 minutes signed a procession of baseballs, gloves and ticket stubs.
Even a forehead.
“I’d never done that before,” he said. “That was pretty funny.”
And so were the Sky Sox, the latest opponent to swing and miss against the Giants’ top prospect. This may not have been Lincecum’s deepest outing, but it was his best in terms of adjusting to the game and adding velocity to pitches when necessary.
Lincecum improved upon his previous start, a feat in itself because six days earlier, he allowed his first and only run in four starts this season. On Sunday, in front of 8,519 fans, he struck out a team-record 14. He walked none, a goal he concentrated on after walking six last week.
“He’s got another gear to go to when he needs to,” Grizzlies manager Dan Rohn said. “It’s fun to watch.”
When your ERA (0.29) is lower than mortgage interest rates after five starts, you start searching for new challenges. What Lincecum wants to accomplish now is to trim his pitch count. On Sunday, he threw 86, including 62 strikes.
“I’ve got to stop messing around with guys,” Lincecum said. “Sometimes I get ahead of the count 1-2, and I’ll throw a ball not even close to the zone. I should just start attacking the zone right away, just going after the batters, challenging them, daring them to hit my stuff.”
Warszawski’s top 5 Grizzlies
More than 500 baseball players have worn Fresno Grizzlies uniforms since the team’s inception in 1998. Of those, a few extraordinary ones stand out. To commemorate Tim Lincecum’s scheduled return Sunday with the Salt Lake Bees, here’s my list of the top five most talented Grizzlies who passed through Fresno on their way to the majors.
1. Tim Lincecum
Who else? Before he was a World Series champion, a two-time Cy Young Award winner or a counterculture icon (“Let Timmy smoke!”), Lincecum was a 5-foot-11 fireballer with a repertoire of pitches that were virtually unhittable. Over five starts for the Grizzlies in 2007, he allowed one run over 31 innings. That’s a 0.29 ERA, for those scoring at home.
2. Carlos Correa
Turns out the Alex Rodriguez comparisons weren’t out of line. With his slick fielding, power and assured presence, Correa looks every bit like baseball’s premier shortstop for the next decade. Fresno fans got to see him for only 24 games, but they sure were memorable.
3. Buster Posey
Posey arrived in Fresno midway through the 2009 season (straight from Class A) and returned for two months in 2010 before becoming a cornerstone for the Giants’ World Series teams. He hit .337/.421/.535 during his Grizzlies tenure, showing the level swing that made him a National League batting champ and MVP.
4. Madison Bumgarner
Over 14 starts for the Grizzlies in 2010, Bumgarner went 7-1 with a 3.16 ERA, displaying the trademark motion that made it appear as if he was pitching around the side of a building. The left-hander also drew notice for his intensity, like the time he got tossed from a game for arguing a call on the bases.
5. Calvin Murray
Unlike the other four on this list, Murray didn’t have much impact in the majors. (He currently works as a player agent.) But he sure was special during that 1999 season with the Grizzlies, hitting .334 with 23 homers and 42 steals – arguably the top offensive season in club history.