Friday, March 09, 2007

Giants Seemingly Ignore Tim Lincecum as Closer

With Giants closer Armando Benitez's spring debut in doubt after he took a hard liner off his troublesome knee Friday, pressure mounts to consider top prospect Tim Lincecum and his 98-mph fastball to finish games.

A 22-year-old non-roster invitee, Lincecum is a longshot to even make the team. But Benitez -- whose knee disorder abruptly ended his season last September -- likely won't be ready by opening day and his most probable substitute Brian Wilson has been shelled in the early days of camp.

Manager Bruce Bochy has been coy when asked whom he thinks will emerge as closer by opening day, seemingly ignoring Lincecum like the fabled pacaderm in the parlor. But the No. 10 overall 2006 draft pick is a conspicuously strong choice, even though the team has resisted rushing him and projects him strictly as a starter.

However, Lincecum is widely viewed as having classical closer's skill sets, characteristics and makeup, though he has a violent throwing motion and is smallish at 6-feet, 170 pounds. He is the only Giants prospect rated in Baseball America's Top 50, having been named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year after dominating aluminum bats at Nebraska with a strikeout rate of 14.3 per nine innings.

In two innings so far in camp, Lincecum has struck out two but has given up three runs on four hits.