Tim Lincecum accepts move to bullpen and excels

Tim Lincecum celebrates after David Freese hits into Tim Lincecum celebrates after David Freese hits into a double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum was a starter in this series after all. He was the first guy at his locker in the Giants clubhouse Sunday night, the first one to answer questions from the media about the Game 1 loss in the NLCS, the first one to say he'll keep doing whatever they ask him.

This was not as easy as it looked for Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner as a starting pitcher who has been dispatched to the bullpen this postseason. No matter how they want to classify it, it is a demotion for a former All-Star and national celebrity who started and won Game 5 of the 2010 World Series -- the Giants' first title clincher in 56 years.

Whatever thoughts might be going on underneath that mop of black hair on Lincecum's head, his public statements always have been like the ones he shared following the 6-4 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.

Of his role, he said: "I really don't care. I just want to help." Of his team, which clawed back from a 6-0 deficit, he said, "I feel like we've got a lot of fight."

Lincecum has not fought his trip to the bullpen, which might be temporary, anyway. He pitched two strong scoreless innings Sunday that helped stabilize the game for the Giants and gave the hitters a chance to show their fight. He allowed only one run in 61/3 innings in two appearances in the Division Series and earned the win in Game 4. He might even start Game 4 or 5, considering that Madison Bumgarner was so bad in Game 1.

In any case, Lincecum has found it easier to accept his assignment than he did in retiring batters this season. That problem was what got him bounced from the postseason rotation in the first place. He went 10-15 with an unsightly 5.18 ERA. Maybe having seen the writing on the wall helped him be so philosophical when Bruce Bochy first announced that he wouldn't start.

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At the time, Lincecum said: "My reaction is I know what to prepare for now. I don't make the lineup. As much as I'd like to start, I don't have that say."

Bochy said Monday, before Game 2: "The first time we brought it up to him, he was all in on it. He said, 'Whatever you want me to do to help this team move on, I want to do that.' He's had a great attitude about this. And I think that's one of the reasons why he's thrown so well."

The Cardinals faced a similar decision with Lance Lynn, sending him to the bullpen at the start of the playoffs even though he made the All-Star Game as a starter and led the team with 18 wins. He was forced back into the rotation because of an injury to Jaime Garcia and failed to make it through the fourth inning Sunday. Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged that the "yo-yo" experience of going from starter to reliever to starter hurt Lynn.

Still, he is not the high-profile pitcher Lincecum is. The latter signed a two-year, $40.2-million deal in January. How this will affect his future with the club is anyone's guess.

"I had the opportunity to play with Tim last year," said Carlos Beltran, who signed with the Cardinals after finishing last season with the Giants. "Tim is a team player. He is doing what he is called to do. Bochy feels it's better to use him out of the bullpen. And he has done a real good job."

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