Lincecum, Hamilton ready to return to form
Righty, slugger face each other in spring contest as they gear up for season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tim Lincecum vs. Josh Hamilton. Not many matchups have the visceral appeal of this one, whether it's late October or mid March. Personalities don't come much richer or deeper than these two charismatic characters.
In front of a packed house, they were face to face, mano-a-mano, on Monday afternoon under the intense sun at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Lincecum started for the Giants, who are trying to regain their championship swagger. Hamilton, rebounding from a strained left calf, was making his spring debut for the Angels as the designated hitter, intent on being ready for Felix Hernandez and the Mariners on Opening Day.
In the first inning, Hamilton tapped a 2-0 pitch to second for a forceout. In the fourth, he ignited a three-run rally by smacking a first-pitch breaking ball off the glove of first baseman Mark Minicozzi for a single. In their final meeting, Hamilton ripped Lincecum's first delivery to right field, where it was run down by Hunter Pence.
"It felt good, all of it," Hamilton said after dashing off to a video shoot. "I was a little out in front my first couple of at-bats, focused on starting my load. The third at-bat, I was focused on my swing and hitting the ball. I felt good running the bases."
The best part, Hamilton said, "was just being in the lineup in general. I'll get my at-bats and go from there."
Manager Mike Scioscia was happy to have the left-handed weapon back in service, breaking up a righty-tilting lineup featuring Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Scioscia and Trout were discussing the impact of Hamilton's return on what Hamilton called a "stacked lineup" before Monday's game.
"I was talking with Mike in the outfield, going through the lineup and just the difference Josh makes when he's in there," Scioscia said. "These guys are excited to see what it's going to be like with him in the middle."
The 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner for the Rangers, Hamilton laughed when he was asked if there were any flashbacks to the World Series that October when both men were on top of the heap. Facing Lincecum in Games 1 and 5, Hamilton went 0-for-6 against the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner.
"No, not really," Hamilton said. "First day back ... that's all."
Lincecum, known as "The Freak," was arguably the game's premier pitcher from 2008-11, but he is a different guy now -- and not just because of the mustache.
Coming off a pair of substandard seasons with a combined 20-29 record and ERAs of 5.18 and 4.37, Lincecum is making the transition from gunslinger to pitcher. His fastball, no longer blowing hitters away, is in the 88-92-mph range. But he still has a full repertoire and can make a hitter feel foolish with his changes of speeds and locations.
We saw that on July 13 last season when Lincecum threw a no-hitter in San Diego, striking out 13 Padres.
Lincecum wasn't hit particularly hard on Monday, pitching to contact, missing a few spots and getting a few unlucky bounces in the manner of finesse pitchers everywhere.
"As the game goes on," Lincecum said, "you can get a little loose, a little more flexible, get a little more life on the ball or life in your body -- so you have to stay within yourself. I think today there were times where I wasn't [doing that] on certain pitches. Maybe if I was, it would have been a little different."
Lincecum will be 30 on June 15, somewhere in the middle of a remarkable career. Giants faithful love the guy dearly -- few ballplayers ever have moved the people of the Bay Area the way he has -- and they're pulling for him to become a winner again, if not the dominant artist of old.
"I think Timmy was fine," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said with the observational skills of a former catcher. "Overall, he threw the ball well. This is Spring Training. We're here to build strength and endurance. He got over 80 pitches and was fine."
Scioscia, another ex-catcher who appraises pitchers with the keen eye of a jeweler, also gave Lincecum two thumbs up.
"He actually looked really good to me," Scioscia said. "Early on, he had good life [on his fastball], and he always has that great changeup."
Yet another nod of approval came from Raul Ibanez, who became a professional hitter in 1992 when Lincecum was 7 years old. Ibanez was having some fun at first base on Monday with Hamilton in the Angels' DH role.
"He's always tough, even if he throws 90 to 92," Ibanez said. "He's good at keeping you off-balance. He's pitching; he knows how to pitch. Even when he was throwing real hard, he knew how to pitch.
"He always had that split, a good curve and slider. He's got four good pitches -- and a lot of deception."
Hamilton, who will be 33 on May 21 and is rebounding from a disappointing debut season with the Angels, still puts on a batting-practice display few players can match. He was launching missiles into the parking lot before Monday's game, calling to mind the awesome pregame shows of the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Prince Fielder and Mark Trumbo.
When Hamilton starts crushing them with regularity under the bright lights of the regular season, he will begin the process of showing the world he still can do what he's always done: bring fans out of their seats in amazement.
To the north, meanwhile, Lincecum will be working in another league with another platform, with the same general idea in mind.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.