Lincecum unchanged by success

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If success has changed Tim Lincecum, it isn't obvious.

Twenty minutes before a start against Japan on Wednesday, Lincecum was seated at a table in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse, singing along to his iPod.

"He's an enigma. Something I've never seen before in a ballplayer, as far as how relaxed and laid back he is," Giants veteran infielder Rich Aurilia said.

Lincecum translated that into the National League Cy Young Award last season, his first full year in the major leagues, going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA. He led the majors with 265 strikeouts, the most by a Giant since Christy Mathewson had 267 in 1903.

With the Cy Young came attention. A Seattle-area native, Lincecum was introduced at a basketball game at his former school, the University of Washington, and was asked to drop the ceremonial first puck at a San Jose Sharks hockey game.

He is the cover guy for the video game Major League Baseball 2K9, whose commercial is airing now. And he still wears the snug black stocking cap seen in the ad. Lincecum admits it's all a bit "overwhelming."

"He has handled that well, and that's a lot of stuff," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "The guys tease him and he takes it well. The demeanor that he has is kind of perfect for this kind of game. It's a tough game. He lets a lot roll off his back. He seems to know to handle it."

Lincecum could have been the first 20-game winner in San Francisco since John Burkett won 22 games in 1993, except for a bullpen that blew five leads for him.

"He should have won a lot more games than he did last year. We either didn't score or lost some leads for him," Aurilia said.

At the same time, Lincecum said he does not focus on numbers, either what could have been in 2008 or what might be this season.

"I've never really been a goal-setter out there," Lincecum said. "I'm a take-it-a-day-at-a-time guy. I just want to come back strong and do the same thing I did last year. I had a good time. It was a lot of fun learning how to pitch. I want to try to be a better pitcher.

"I'm the same person. The only difference is, I have a little hardware now."

Lincecum bypassed the World Baseball Classic in order to prepare with the Giants this spring. Righetti said he already has seen signs of Lincecum's growth, from the increased comfort level to an ability to rein in his arm except when necessary.

"It's been going on for a 1,000 years — every pitcher whose ever had a good arm has to show everybody, even when you are playing catch," Righetti said. "We all know he has a good arm. Now he saves it for the mound. He gets himself ready to pitch. That's the maturity part."

Lincecum, whose primary weapons are a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a curveball, retired 20 of the first 22 batters he faced in his first three spring training starts. He had another 2 1-3 scoreless innings against Japan, although those statistics are not counted in his spring numbers.

"His mound presence. You get the sense he knows what he wants to do out there," Righetti said. "He knows the league now. He knows the hitters, because he has faced them. I think he is more comfortable with how his stuff fits against those guys."

Lincecum won seven of his last nine decisions to beat out Arizona's Brandon Webb and New York's Johan Santana for the Cy Young.

"He got better, and you could see it coming," Righetti said. "In September, you are facing your division again. You are probably seeing teams for the fifth time. It's not easy. For him to still do very well against those teams show you he understands his stuff and how to pitch against batters who are trying to make an adjustment on him."

The Giants will set no expectations, or limits, on Lincecum.

"We are all going to find out together," Righetti said.

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