SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Tim Lincecum approaches a new season, he's driven by last year's dreary August as much as his dominant autumn.From athletics to the arts, the great ones loathe failure as much as they cherish success. So it follows that Lincecum, the 2008 and 2009 National League Cy Young Award winner, goaded himself into throwing more than he ever has this past offseason by dwelling on the worst month of his Major League career. "That was the lowest of lows I think I've ever gone through," Lincecum said Tuesday, recalling the 0-5 record and 7.82 ERA he recorded in August. "I mean, five losses in a month. I'm lucky it wasn't six, right?" The Giants right-hander recovered admirably to post a 5-1 mark and a 1.94 ERA in September. Then came a 4-1 postseason, garnished by a 2.43 ERA, in which Lincecum won the opener of each of San Francisco's three series, as well as the Game 5 World Series clincher at Texas. Yet Lincecum admitted that August, when opponents battered him for a .311 batting average, remained as vivid for him as his feats against Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas. "I think sometimes fear can be the best motivation, especially in my situation," Lincecum said. As a child, he added, "I kind of lived by being fearful. I was always the smallest one, and whether it was football or basketball, I didn't want to get killed or 'stompled' on or crushed or anything like that. It was always like, coming into the year, am I going to be able to hang with all these big guys?" Lincecum reveled in the Giants' World Series triumph as much as anyone. But he also resolved to eliminate all skepticism about his work ethic, particularly since a change in conditioning habits prompted last year's late-season improvement. "I want to lay all the doubts to rest," Lincecum said. Lincecum took a step toward accomplishing that during the Giants' first workout for pitchers and catchers at their Scottsdale Stadium complex. Working from a practice mound, he looked sharp and threw his entire variety of pitches -- changeup, curveball, fastball and slider. "Very impressive," said Buster Posey, who caught Lincecum. "The ball was just jumping. It seemed like everything was in sync." "It's evident that he has been throwing," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I was a little surprised, to be honest with you." Lincecum launched last year's surge by refining his between-starts routine. He incorporated long toss and adjusted his lower-body and cardiovascular workouts. This winter, Lincecum simply maintained that regimen. "I feel like last year, at least toward the end of the year, I got stronger," said Lincecum, who finished 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA. "I wanted to use that as my springboard into my offseason. I didn't want to take too much time off to get out of shape." Lincecum avoided that by throwing as often as five times per week, compared to once every few days in the 2009-10 offseason. "Last year I don't think I came in as prepared as I should have been," said Lincecum, who's 56-27 with a 3.04 ERA lifetime. "You saw that in some of the middle months." Like NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who tried to add a new facet to his game each season, Lincecum said that he wants to make his repertoire more complete.
"It feels like almost every year I'm kind of refining a pitch," said Lincecum, the NL leader in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons. This year, it's his curveball. Late last season, it was his slider. Two years ago, it was his changeup, which has become one of the most devastating pitches in the Majors.Running stadium steps remained a habit for Lincecum, who continued to heed the advice he received from his father, Chris, and Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti about keeping his legs in shape. "Your legs are what's going to get you through the season," Lincecum said. "Obviously I derive a lot of power from my midsection and legs. It helps to make it easier on my arm so I'm not doing so much work with that. When you're strong and you feel like you have your feet under you, you're not worried about mechanics. You're just worried about rhythm and where you want the pitch to go. Last year, obviously in those middle months, I had too much going through my head."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.