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SF 7, CHC 6: Grind, Grind, Grind

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Watching Vogelsong -- which means "grinding noise" in German -- force his way through six innings Thursday afternoon in Wrigley Field, Nova Scotia, I thought about the man's different faces. There's the nostril-flare gameday comin'-at-you face. There's the grumpy, mouth-twisted, that's-MY-inside-corner-bitch face. There's the.. wait, that's it. He only has one face when he's pitching.

But sometimes in the past two-plus renaissance years, he has switched into a different mode. Vogelsong always refuses to throw balls down the middle, but for whatever reason, once in a while his stuff doesn't get the same number of swing-throughs. So there are walks. Like today. And there are bad luck bleeders and bloopers, like today and his previous start against St. Louis. And the first-pitch sinker at the knees gets blasted through the Nova Scotian wind and into the bleachers.

In other words, it's fairly easy to watch Vogelsong and say, yep. Pretty much the same guy who did the two-seam nasty to Allen Craig and Miguel Cabrera last October. He's fundamentally the same pitcher. And we all go to bed tonight feeling cheery because the Giants won and Vogelsong went six innings, grind, grind, grind, and he got a W and, wow, what a grinder.

Now, for your consideration, Tim Lincecum. He's also battled his way through two ineffective starts and "given his team a chance to win." Grinder? Only if the Giants' offense continues to let Timmy off the hook and the defense doesn't compound his mistakes.

Grant made a couple excellent points yesterday: Despite the drop in general velocity, Lincecum is still getting lots of swing-throughs; but he's also throwing far too many balls out of the strike zone. There's another point about Lincecum that I haven't seen explored much: Whatever has been wrong with him since April 2012, it certainly didn't affect him in his five games out of the bullpen in last year's playoffs. He looked like Sad Timmy in his lone playoff start -- NLCS Game 4 -- but on either side of that, he was dominant, recording K rates and BB rates out of the bullpen that looked like Cy Young Timmy, not the human version.

Of course five bullpen appearances are a small sample size, but the stark difference cannot be ignored. Unlike one of Vogelsong's dizzy spells, it can't be chalked up to a little bit of luck lost and a few more pitches just a wee bit off. Smooth Vogey and Grinder Vogey are basically the same guy, while Lost Starter Timmy and Bullpen Super Timmy are Jekyll and Hyde. Why?

I'm pretty sure it's not injury. If a deteriorating elbow or shoulder were making Lincecum lose it suddenly in at least one inning of every start, why didn't it happen in the playoffs -- except in his one playoff start? The answer can't be "Because out of the bullpen he was only in a short while and could let it fly," because he went multiple innings in every appearance, as much as 4 1/3 in the game in Cincy when Zito made an early exit (and the Giants, of course, won). Bullpen Timmy threw anywhere from 24 to 55 pitches per outing; Lost Starter Timmy often has had his bursts of awfulness well within that window. He never once lost it as a playoff reliever. So unless the adrenaline that comes from a mid-game bullpen assignment in the playoffs is so potent that it numbs all pain, I'm going with something other than injury as the source of this madness.

And seeing how, despite the lower fastball velocity, Lincecum is still striking out a healthy 9 batters per 9 innings, I'm going with something other than "stuff." Lack of grindability? Occasional cannabinoid receptor misfire? Acute lack of ass-kickingBuster Posey?

Sorry, no. Not getting into that one in this post.

A few other notes from Thursday:

- If there's a specific way to pitch against a guy who seems to hit everything on a line back up the middle, teams will start to do it against Nick Noonan. Or play the center fielder thirty feet behind second base. Doesn't look he'll hit too many home runs, but he might take out a few pitchers.

- Sergio Romo's secret weapon is the mind-fuck. Anthony Rizzo, who loves first-pitch fastballs and could hit one into Lake Michigan at any moment, represented the winning run in the ninth and two out. He watched Romo's first-pitch fastball that missed its outside target and went right... down.... the middle. Strike one. He then watched a perfect backdoor slider. Strike two. Just when he thought another slider was coming, it was the two-seam front-door sinker that snuck across the inside corner (maybe). Strike three.

- Chicagoland Haiku time:

In the cold wet wind
One hundred Northside losses 
Whispered cruel hello
 


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