Media overreaction or serious problem? Tim Lincecum is struggling.

When your run-of-the-mill starting pitcher suffers back-to-back poor outings, the media assumes he’s in a funk and usually nothing more is made out of it. But when the defending two-time Cy Young award winner suffers back-to-back poor outings, the media goes into a Mountain Dew-mixed-with-cocaine-like frenzy and poses questions such as: What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum? What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum! What’s wrong with Tiqiowehgoiwgh….

After giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday night in a loss to the Nationals, all the talk in San Francisco yesterday was about Lincecum’s struggles. He also pitched poorly in a no-decision against the Diamondbacks in the start prior to his outing on Wednesday and has now walked five batters in each of his last three games after walking just 10 in his first seven starts combined. He has routinely fallen behind hitters early in counts and his main issue has been control.

But before this becomes national news, remember that Lincecum held the Astros to one run over eight innings on May 15 and also struck out 13 Marlins while walking just one on May 4. It’s not like he’s been in a season-long funk and the Giants have this huge crisis on their hands; he just needs to figure out what has ailed him over these last two games.

I’m not Dave Righetti, but it appears as though Lincecum’s struggles are mental. Early in the game Wednesday night against the Nationals, he allowed a runner a free 90 feet when he couldn’t handle the throw back from first baseman Aubrey Huff following a pickoff attempt. Those things happen when a player isn’t focused and it seems as though Lincecum’s struggles are getting inside his head and he’s pressing. The more an athlete fights his struggles, the more his struggles consume him and in my non-professional opinion, I think that’s what’s happening to Lincecum. Maybe he also has a small mechanical issue that Righetti can iron out, but it seems as if he’s suffering from lack of confidence more than anything else. (Not that he doesn’t have confidence, but maybe the seed of doubt has been planted in his head.)

Another underlining issue is the fact that the Giants paid him this past offseason (two years, $23 million), so now he has to deal with the pressures of trying to live up to a contract. If there’s one person that knows about that it’s Lincecum’s teammate and good friend, Barry Zito, who signed a $126 million contract with the Giants in 2007. Zito is living proof that the pressures of a contract can eat away at a player.

When things start to go badly for an athlete, he never feels like he’ll find success again. But Lincecum is an elite pitcher and it’s because he’s so good that people have already started hitting the panic button after two bad outings. During a 162-game season, the media has to talk about something and it has latched onto Lincecum after Wednesday night.

But he’ll be fine – everyone goes through these rough patches. Even two-time Cy Young winners.

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Lincecum runs scoreless streak to 23 innings

Tim Lincecum pitched seven scoreless innings in the Giants’ 9-0 win over the Astros on Saturday. He has now thrown 23 scoreless innings in his last three games and has lowered his ERA to 2.23 while amassing a 9-2 record.

So much for Lincecum’s arm falling off. After tossing 227 innings last season, many thought that “The Franchise” would suffer a post-Cy Young slump and sift into arm-trouble hell. And when he started the season 0-1 with two no decisions, the I-told-you-so’s were out in full force.

But Lincecum has been absolutely filthy of late, with Saturday marking his 14th career start in which he’s allowed zero earned runs in seven or more innings. That ties Ron Gudry and Fernando Valenzuela for the fourth-most such starts by a pitcher in his first 75 career games since 1954, with Dwight Gooden leading all players in that category with 23.

With the Giants playing on the West Coast, Lincecum seemingly doesn’t get the national attention he deserves. But he’s the best young pitcher in the game and if San Fran can continue to play well this season, maybe they’ll make the postseason and his skills can be on full display come mid-October.

Giants, Lincecum haven’t talked new contract

At the beginning of the 2009 MLB season, the Giants and reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum set out to talk long-term contract and keep the ace in San Francisco for years to come. But according to Lincecum’s agent Rick Thurman, the Giants haven’t brought the topic up again since.

Not that they would, but the Giants can’t play games here. Lincecum is clearly the future of their staff and while clubs are always hesitant on giving young pitcher’s hefty contracts, Lincecum is without a doubt worth the risk. He’s essentially a freak of nature given his unique skills (he barely has to warm up, he has never had to ice after an outing and pitch counts mean very little for this young man) and he’ll probably be worth every penny he makes.

The Giants have a little bit of time since Lincecum’s arbitration years aren’t until 2011-2013. If they don’t mind paying him truckloads of money for one-year deals, they could go year-to-year (which Lincecum and his agent don’t mind because they’re not worried about him getting hurt) with his contract. But again, why mess around? He’s the face of the franchise and one of those rare players that a team just can’t let go.

The Giants are little more cautious these days with long-term contracts after blowing the Barry Zito deal. But again, Lincecum is going to be worth it and it would be shocking if the G-Men don’t enter long-term talks with him again after the season.

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