TACOMA, Wash. — Despite winning two Cy Young Awards and three World Series rings, Tim Lincecum acknowledged being a bit nervous in his first comeback start with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees.
"It's good to get the feet wet again and get in that game-type atmosphere and just get the ball rolling again," said Lincecum, making his first start since June 27 last season with the San Francisco Giants. "It kind of got the better of me the first couple innings and then I settled into it and started making better pitches and getting better results."
Lincecum allowed three runs and three hits against the Tacoma Rainiers on Thursday night in a 6-1 Rainiers victory, exiting after five innings in his first game appearance since hip surgery in September.
The 31-year-old right-hander, signed by the Los Angeles Angels to a $2.5 million, one-year contract two weeks ago, retired nine straight during one stretch after allowing two runs in the first inning and another in the second. He left with Salt Lake trailing 3-1 against a Tacoma lineup that included Seattle Mariners starting shortstop Ketel Marte, who is on a rehab assignment.
"About the third inning, it kind of came around. I forget who the hitter was, but I went fastball away, fastball in and that kind of just established it and I was like, OK, I can still do those pitches," said Lincecum, who won consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2008-09.
Lincecum struck out five and walked three with one hit batter. He also balked in a run with the bases loaded in the first. He threw 88 pitches, 48 strikes, and consistently had his fastball in the 88-89 mph range.
"The approach is kind of like spring training. You want to do well, but you want to establish strikes and not worry necessarily about the result," Lincecum said. "So, today I was kind of trying to do that, but at the same time, worry about the result because I don't want to be getting hit around."
Lincecum, who went 7-4 last year with San Francisco, had season-ending hip surgery in September and became a free agent after the season. He pitched in two extended spring training games after signing with Los Angeles and is scheduled to make one more start for the Bees next Tuesday, then join the Angels on June 12 to face the Cleveland Indians in Anaheim, California.
Former Angels pitching coach Bud Black, now a special assistant to the general manager, was on hand.
"I've seen him a lot over the years and the delivery, the arm action looked like Tim Lincecum, which is a good sign," said Black, also a former manager of the San Diego Padres. "Physically, he looked good. This is for him, his spring training in a way. He's got to build pitch count, he's got to build stamina and he accomplished that tonight in a first step to getting back."
Tacoma manager Pat Listach, who was familiar with Lincecum when Listach was coaching in the National League, was impressed with the pitcher's season debut.
"For a while there, he was in a pretty good groove, winning three out of five World Series and winning Cy Young twice," Listach said. "He's looking for his groove and after being down for an amount of time, it's just a matter of time before he finds it. And, when he finds it, he's going to be a quality major league pitcher again."
Lincecum, who pitched in high school at nearby Renton and later at the University of Washington, said he had several family members in attendance, including his father.
"It's always good to be pitching at home," he said. "I don't get to do it very often. But, when I do, those comforts really come in and make a difference."