Lincecum to Join Rare, Odd K Company

Tim Lincecum needs just five strikeouts Monday night to join some rare company.

That's because with five whiffs, he'll have struck out a ridiculous 1,000 batters in his first five years.

But the group of pitchers on that list aren't the same pitchers that you might assume. And Lincecum didn't know what kind of company he was set to join either.

Per Chris Haft of, Lincecum was asked who else was in the club and guessed "Roger Clemens," "Pedro Martinez," and "Randy [Johnson]," all great strikeout artists ... who didn't K 1,000 batters in their first five years.

The other seven members of the club, then? Tom Seaver, Bert Blyleven, Dwight Gooden, Kerry Wood, G.C. Alexander, Hideo Nomo and Mark Langston.

That's about as odd a list as it gets -- all of the guys on the list came out swinging (or, if you prefer, making people swing), but not all of them ended up as great pitchers.

In fact, Wood and Gooden are easily two of the biggest flame-outs in baseball history when it comes to strikeout-dominant pitchers who looked like locks for greatness early in their careers.

Seaver, Blyleven and Alexander did alright, though, as they all ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Lincecum doesn't have to be a flame-out or an all-timer, in terms of exclusively belonging to one group, of course, and if there's anything his career's shown us, it's that he's willing to change who he is as a pitcher in order to succeed.

"You change with the times," Lincecum said. "Once guys kind of get a knack for seeing you and know what you've got, they're not going to swing at the same stuff that they used to. You have to work around that. It's about constantly making adjustments.

"You're constantly trying to improve yourself."

The fiery little face of San Francisco has done just that, adding a slider to his repertoire over the past year that allowed him to regain his 2008 and 2009 form late in 2010 as the Giants streaked to the pennant.

And this year, his game has changed too. Lincecum, at 9.8 whiffs-per-nine innings, is fanning batters at the second-lowest rate of his career. (He struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings over 146 innings his rookie season.)

But that's not necessarily a bad thing -- The Freak also has a career-low walks-per-nine innings (2.6) and his hits-per-nine innings (7.2) is tied with his league-leading mark during his 2008 Cy Young campaign.

"He knows we don't want him going for strikeouts -- just get outs," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said recently. "Keep pounding the strike zone. If they put it in play, fine.

"We don't want the mindset from any of our pitchers that we're going to try for strikeouts."

But that doesn't always keep a guy like Timmy from doing so.

"I always feel like I should be a strikeout-per-inning kind of guy," he said.

Fortunately, Lincecum understands the evolution of a pitcher, and he understands the need to be efficient at times.

Despite that knowledge and his success through five years, you can almost guarantee there'll be plenty of people who will point to his funky delivery and tiny frame and claim that Lincecum will be Nomo before he becomes Seaver.

But considering that falls exactly in line with his entire career thus far, maybe it's not such a bad thing.

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