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Unconventional wisdom

Giants unafraid to give rookie Lincecum high workload

Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:40AM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 12:52PM
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Tim Lincecum is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA and 39 strikeouts in his first six starts.
Tim Lincecum is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA and 39 strikeouts in his first six starts.
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One day last week, San Francisco righthanded pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, who can make Giants fans dream of Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry (or maybe, for now among the more grounded dreamers, John Burkett and Billy Swift), walked into Shea Stadium and down a hallway toward the visiting clubhouse and . . . kept right on walking. It wasn't until they wound up near the leftfield bullpen that the young pitchers realized they had walked far past the clubhouse. Cain, 22, and Lincecum, who turns 23 on June 15, doubled back and paused at a door with a security guard. The guard stopped them from entering.

"Is this the clubhouse?" asked Lincecum, who is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and without need of a daily shaving habit.

"Who are you and who are you looking for?" the guard asked, his outstretched arm held in front of Lincecum's narrow chest.

"We're players," Cain said.

The guard then recognized Cain and let the kid pitchers enter. They may not be household names or faces yet, but they are the best thing about the Giants' future -- and their present, too.

Cain, 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, looks every bit the power pitcher. Lincecum looks like the IT guy sent to fix the clubhouse computer, until, that is, he unleashes that unique backward swan dive of a windup and fires 99 mph fastballs with the jangly, well-oiled ease of a young Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden or Pedro Martinez.

Maybe there are other young starting pitchers whose futures you'd rather have right now. Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, a rebuilt Francisco Liriano, Phil Hughes and Homer Bailey may be among your choices. But because Lincecum throws so hard and so well with such a unique delivery and small frame, there is no young pitcher more fascinating than Tiny Tim. And for that reason, there is no manager more on the hook for how he handles his young pitcher than Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

If Billy Martin caused industry-wide reduction in pitchers' workload because of how he pushed his young Oakland starters in 1980, the breakdowns of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood of the Cubs stand as the second major event in the de-evolution of starting pitching. What Martin's pitchers did for innings (too many, the critics howled), Prior and Wood did for pitch counts (too many, the critics howled). But, to the delight of the curious and the radical thinkers, both Lincecum and Bochy seem not to have gotten the memo, as evidenced that night at Shea Stadium.

Lincecum had thrown 100 pitches through six innings against the Mets before the Giants tied the game at 3 in the top of the seventh. Lincecum had just pitched virtually the entire sixth inning out of the stretch, allowing one run. The conservative move was to lift the rookie. Bochy, however, never considered it.

"No," Bochy said. "He can throw 150 pitches easy with the arm he has. And tomorrow he'll pick up a ball and the first ball he throws he'll just air it out. You know how many pitches he threw in the bullpen warming up tonight? Fifteen pitches is all he threw. And he had an extra day or two [of rest] coming in. So, no, there's no concern."

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