Almost everyone has experienced it at some point of their life, a stiff neck. For most, a stiff neck would mean some discomfort but would not prevent an individual from performing their normal daily activities. But, for a major league baseball pitcher, a stiff neck could be detrimental.
San Francisco Giants right-handed starter Tim Lincecum experienced a stiff neck during his third spring training outing on Wednesday, March 11. The good news for Lincecum is that the stiff neck wasn’t caused by his neck whipping around after hitters tattooed his offerings, which has been the case for the last two seasons. Instead, the stiff neck started presenting itself during the evening prior to his Wednesday appearance. “The Freak” tried to gut his way through his outing against the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, things did not go well for the former two-time Cy-Young Award winner, as he gave up three runs on three hits and one walk during his one inning of work.
The plan was to try to have Lincecum extend his outing to possibly three innings. In order to hopefully make this plan a reality, Lincecum underwent treatment before his start. He said that he was struggling to turn his neck left, which is important for a right-hand pitcher hoping to focus on his target. Along with treatment before the game, Lincecum said he hoped warming up in the bullpen might loosen things up a little.
“I tried to see if I could let the day’s motion heat it up and get it mobile again, but it just didn’t happen,” he said, adding that his time in the bullpen actually resulted in his neck locking back up after he received treatment, resulting in the pitcher only lasting one inning.
“I’m not going to get much done, or at least much positive work in, trying to pitch with a little jammed neck,” he said after his outing.
After exiting, Lincecum went back to the training room for more treatment on his stiff neck. The expectations are that the right-hander will be available for his next outing, although that has not been scheduled at this time.
Prior to Wednesday’s start, Lincecum had flashed some of the dominance he exhibited during his first four seasons in the league. In his first two outings of spring, Lincecum recorded seven strikeouts in three innings. Although he had given up three earned runs and a home run to newly acquired San Diego outfielder Wil Myers during those first two appearances, the former Cy-Young winner had shown improved command of his fastball and excellent off-speed offerings to that point.
The word strikeout and Lincecum have become synonymous throughout the righty’s career, as he owns four seasons of 200-plus strikeouts. Lincecum posted a career-high 265 during the 2008 season, which is also the season he claimed his first Cy-Young Award. He followed up his 2008 season with another spectacular year and Cy-Young Award in 2009, finishing with 261 strikeouts in 225.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA.
“The Freak” saw his ERA climb to 3.43 during 2010, but he was still able to manage 231 strikeouts in 212.1 innings. He finished 2010 off by leading the Giants to their first World Series title since 1954. In the National League Division Series, Lincecum got the Giants started on the right track, striking out 14 Atlanta Braves hitters in San Francisco’s 1-0 win.
The righty also started the Giants final postseason game, defeating the Texas Rangers 3-1. Lincecum tossed eight innings of one-run ball while striking out 10 in the win.
For Lincecum, the drop off in production started in 2012 when the normally stingy right-hander saw his ERA balloon to 5.18, worst among qualified starters. He still proved to be a strikeout pitcher, finishing with 190 in 186 innings, but hitters were taking advantage of his mistakes and a drop in velocity.
The righty’s descent continued during the 2013 season when he struggled to a 10-14 record and a 4.37 ERA. He recorded 193 strikeouts in 197.2 innings, the first time in his career he finished with more innings pitched than strikeouts.
Entering 2014, Lincecum was hoping for a return to form. But the right-hander struggled to a 4.74 ERA. Although he finished with a 12-9 record, Lincecum again recorded more innings pitched (155.2) than strikeouts (134). His struggles were so prevalent that Giants Manager Bruce Bochy did not use him in his starting rotation during San Francisco’s World Series title run.
If the Giants hope to repeat in 2015, Lincecum finding his groove again will be an important step in the process. If spring training is a forecaster of things to come, then big things could be expected from the right-hander.