Q&A With Tim Lincecum

There’s good, there’s great and there’s outstanding. Washington junior righthander Tim Lincecum has fallen into that final category for most of 2006. He was leading the nation with 174 strikeouts and 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings, and he was 11-3, 2.06 with three saves overall. How has the 6-foot, 165-pounder, regularly described by scouts and opponents–admiringly–as a freak of nature, done it? He talked to Will Kimmey to shed some light on his amazing season.

What’s different for you this year?

It’s been a lot of fun and I’m just really enjoying it. I came into this season, the summer was really good (in the Cape Cod League, posting a league-best 0.69 ERA). I wanted to get a little stronger, a little bigger, to get in better shape. This is the year I had to get it done. I wanted to go in the draft as a junior. I worked on the development of my slider and changeup. The first two years, it was pretty much fastball (and) curveball all the time. I’m throwing my slider a lot more now, using it more consistently. I’m more comfortable throwing it for a strike. The changeup, I can flash it any time I want. I use my curveball and slider equally. If I want a strike, I throw the slider, and the out pitch is the curveball. But I’ll mix them up. The change I flash probably about 10-15 pitches a game to get them thinking about that, too.

It gives me a better opportunity of making outs, it gives the batter more things to think about. I can throw more of these pitches for strikes and keep my walks down. It lets me pitch off my fastball and curveball. It makes it a lot easier to set up hitters.

Your walk totals are down from 82 and 71 your first two seasons to 56 this year. How important is your improved command?

I’m sure my stats wouldn’t be nearly as good right now if I had walked as many as I used to. We’re always emphasizing . . . that freebies are a big deal; you can’t be walking or hitting batters. It’s gone down a lot since the last two years. It’s helped me get out of jams. I’m not always looking for that strikeout. That was a big deal with me the last two years, I was always looking for a strikeout, and most of the results were a walk because guys in college were more selective than in high school. With my command, I’ve increased my chances of throwing strikes and making outs.

Have scouts treated you different this season?

It’s been definitely different. They’re showing me more interest. Last year, they knew for a fact I was sophomore-eligible and I had more leverage than they did. My walks were really (making them) skeptical and the outings weren’t as consistent. Now they are. They’re talking to me more, they’re more comfortable with the pitching style that I have. Everybody has their own way of looking at me, whether they like me or not, I can’t do anything about that.

Do you worry about the persistent questions about your size?

Knowing that the size was a big factor, that’s why I tried to increase my size. I weighed 150 pounds when I came back from the Cape last summer, and I put on 15 to 20 pounds in the fall. I’ve been able to hold that pretty well. I’m sitting at 170 to 173 right now. They’ve pushed me to hold on to some weight. I’m not sure if my height’s a factor.

I eat like so much, I don’t know how to explain it. (My roommate) Richie Lentz jokes that he’s never seen anyone my size eat so much.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m physically maturing a little bit more, my metabolism is slowing down. I try to eat everything I can. I don’t shy away from food. If my girlfriend wants to take me out for food, I’m definitely there. If my dad wants me to come over for chicken, I’m there. There isn’t a time where I say I’m not hungry.

What do you think about the bias against short righthanders?

There’s also guys in the pros that are small. Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt, guys like those. They’re not really big guys. Scouts have got to understand it’s not always about the size of the pitcher. It’s about the results and making outs.

Do you understand it?

Bigger guys last longer, that’s what I hear. They’re stronger and over the 100 games or whatever in the pros, they don’t wear on them as much. They have a tendency of lasting. I guess it’s just kind of the way it’s been with me. I’ve proved them wrong, made them see the other side of it.

How are you able to throw downhill at your size?

First of all my mechanics kind of accomplish that. I feel like I get down the mound pretty well because I’ve got a long stride. My arm angle is between three quarters and straight over top, so that keeps it from being flat, too. For most part, it’s the way I was taught that helps me get the action down the mound quickly.

Did not being drafted until the 41st round last year bother you?

Not too much. I woke up and my name wasn’t called where I wanted it to be. Who doesn’t want to be called in first round, or the first three rounds? I had another two years of eligibility, so I wanted to come out and prove them wrong this year. I knew I didn’t have a good year last year. I talked about it before the season, but you have to back it up, and I really didn’t do that last year. I tried to change it this year, back up what I say. Developing those two pitches made them think a bit more reliable I’m sure. They say I physically look like I got a little bit bigger. I’ve become a better pitcher, I’ve matured.

How do you feel about possibly becoming the No. 1 overall pick?

Even just being considered, it’s an honor. I’m pretty happy about it. It’s still early in the process and there’s also other great pitchers out there, the (Brandon) Morrows and (Andrew) Millers. Wherever I go is where I go. I’m not going to get too big-headed or ahead of myself. Other people are like, “Dude you’re going to go No. 1,” but I say it’s not up to me. People just throwing it out there isn’t going to make it happen. I don’t look up UNC or Cal to make sure their outings are good or bad. You just hear about it.

How has the extra media attention been?

It’s a lot different, it’s never been this heavy. It’s not a bad thing; whatever I can do to get the school in the media’s eye. Any media for the school is good media. I’m enjoying it. It’s pretty surreal. Outside of all the questions and interviews, I’m not letting it get to me. I’m not taking it for anything big. I have to get through it. I’m just a regular kid hanging out with my buddies watching TV.

How would you approach hitting against yourself?

To be honest with you, I really don’t know. I tried hitting off a batting machine in Cape Cod at a golf range/putt putt golf course/batting cage this summer. They had one that up to 85 and I couldn’t even touch it. It was very embarrassing.

Why are you able to throw so many pitches and come back on short rest?

The way I’ve been taught to take care of my arm and my body, it’s just not my arm (taking the stress). I’m keeping all the small muscles in shape. Maybe I’m just a freak of nature, that’s what some people call me. Whatever they want to call me, that’s fine. Coming off short days’ rest doesn’t really bother me. It’s my lineage that allows me to do it. My dad tells me stories about how he used to do that, and I wasn’t around to see that, but I believe him.