Lincecum takes notes from Hudson on aiming low
Two-time Cy Young winner, 15-year veteran keep pitches down in pitching session
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Only a week into Spring Training, Tim Hudson has made his presence felt among the Giants.
Moreover, Hudson has had an impact upon somebody who can benefit deeply from his influence -- a talented, accomplished, yet still-evolving fellow right-hander named Tim Lincecum.
The Hudson-Lincecum relationship manifested itself during the Giants' workout Friday. At Scottsdale Stadium, Hudson faced hitters for the first time since sustaining his horrific fractured right ankle last July 24. He repeatedly induced ground balls with his sinking fastball, displaying the style that has made him the Major Leagues' winningest active pitcher (205) along with the Yankees' CC Sabathia.
Minutes after Hudson finished his stint, Lincecum faced hitters on an auxiliary diamond and looked polished, unlike the performer who has struggled virtually every Spring Training. Like Hudson, Lincecum tried to steer his pitches toward the lower quandrants of the strike zone. Like Hudson, he succeeded.
"He looked great," said outfielder Gregor Blanco, who faced Lincecum along with utility infielder Joaquin Arias and catcher Guillermo Quiroz. "His offspeed pitches were good; his changeup was unbelievable. If he keeps the ball down, he's going to be good."
Lincecum aches to be great, not good, To that end, the two-time Cy Young Award winner has chatted with Hudson, a 15-year veteran, about pitching theories and technique. Hudson's advice: Aim low.
"When you see a guy who's been in the game that long, you [ask], 'How has he stayed in the game that long? What has he done to simplify the game for himself?'" said Lincecum, who compiled a 20-29 record with a 4.80 ERA the last two seasons. "I take a look back at years when I've scuffled, or the last couple of years where it has been a pretty bad run, and I look at guys like him who have had success even in later years and how they did that."
Lincecum's metamorphosis from flamethrower to finesse artist has been ongoing for a couple of years. Perhaps Hudson's arrival via free agency will accelerate his transition. Lincecum led the National League in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons (2008-2010) and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning last year. Now, he said, what he really wants to induce from hitters is not swings and misses, but "crappy contact."
"If he can do it, I can do it," Lincecum said, describing the effect of having Hudson around. "The competition kind of takes hold."
Hudson said that he has discussed "philosophies and game plans and how you go about setting some things up" with Lincecum. The 38-year-old looks forward to bonding with the other Giants pitchers.
"I think it's going to be really cool picking everybody's brains at some point and them picking mine and figuring out the complicated thing of getting hitters out," Hudson said.
Hudson might not have recorded as many outs as he'd prefer had his batting-practice session unfolded in a game. Pablo Sandoval whacked several sharp grounders up the middle.
"I don't think there's a pitch he's seen that he didn't like," Hudson jokingly said. Hector Sanchez added another apparent single. But Hudson also coaxed at least one swing-and-a-miss from Sandoval, Sanchez and Hunter Pence.
"I just went out there and did what I do," Hudson said. "I was glad to see a lot of balls on the ground. Whether they were base hits or not, it seems like a good sign for me or any sinkerballer."
Hudson's arm feels sound, but healing the ankle has delayed his overall physical preparation.
"Right now, the more challenging thing is to get my body in shape, getting ready to go from a conditioning standpoint," he said.
Unencumbered by such concerns, Lincecum concentrated on pitching, period. Asked to rate his satisfaction with his outing on a scale of 1 to 10, Lincecum responded, "8."
"The hitters were a good indication that I was on the right path," Lincecum said.
Quiroz flailed at a curveball. Blanco and Arias missed changeups. Arias left the batting cage muttering to himself after one of his rounds ended.
"I think he shattered three or four bats," said Minor League catcher Andrew Susac, Lincecum's batterymate.
Blanco rapped a couple of pitches hard for apparent base hits. But as he said later, "I think those were the only two mistakes he made."