Seldom does an opponent warrant a round of applause, but those in attendance at Cheney Stadium on Thursday made an exception when Tim Lincecum’s name was announced.
Lincecum, the recently acquired Los Angeles Angel who pitched his first game in just over 11 months, threw five innings for the Salt Lake Bees in his 2016 debut. He is returning from a hip injury that kept him out of baseball since last June, and was signed to a one-year deal with the Angels on May 20.
The Liberty (Issaquah) High School and University of Washington graduate took two slow innings to warm up, but found his footing against the Rainiers, finishing with five strikeouts in 88 pitches (48 strikes) while allowing three hits and three earned runs.
The fastball that once checked in at 97 mph, around the same time as his two Cy Young Awards and three World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants, registered a tad slower Thursday. He caught batters swinging at pitches as fast as 91 mph, according to the stadium radar gun, but threw right around 88 mph most of the night.
He threw 75 pitches in five innings in an extended spring league session on May 28, but Thursday was his first game action.
Lincecum started slow, but eventually found his footing. He gave up hits to the first two batters, a single and a double, then walked first baseman Efren Navarro. After giving catcher Mike Zunino two balls, Lincecum completed his windup, then lost his balance, never releasing the ball for a balk, advancing each Rainier one base and scoring Ketel Marte.
Mike Baxter, who faced Lincecum during his three-year stint with the New York Mets, did not get a hit in two at-bats against the right-hander.
“I think he settled in pretty good,” Baxter said. “His (velocity) is not what it used to be, but I think he still has a fast arm on his off-speed pitches. He threw some good cutters. … I think he’s comfortable throwing any pitch at any count.”
Lincecum gave up two earned runs in the first and one in the second, but threw only 10 pitches in the fourth and 14 pitches in the fifth, which started off with Lincecum disposing of Tyler Smith in three pitches.
Among the 5,643 fans in attendance was Auburn Mountainview baseball coach Glen Walker, formerly Lincecum’s coach at Liberty. Walker recognized plenty of Lincecum’s approach.
“It’s funny because he hasn’t changed much in delivery and style,” Walker said. “I can remember back when he was in high school, we didn’t really do anything with Tim in mechanics or anything else. (He’s) very similar in mechanics.”
Lincecum last pitched in Cheney Stadium in 2007 during a stint with the Fresno Grizzlies prior to his major league debut. He was selected 10th in the 2006 MLB draft by the Giants.
On Thursday, Daniel Robertson went 1 for 2 with two runs and two walks, and, after Lincecum departed, Baxter hit a an eighth-inning, two-run homer as Tacoma defeated Salt Lake, 6-1.
Skyline graduate Adrian Sampson (6-3) started for the Rainiers and went six innings, allowing five hits, one walk and one run while striking out six.
Lincecum was handed the loss.