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Giants need struggling ace Tim Lincecum to get his groove back

What's wrong with Tim Lincecum?

That's just one of many concerns for the San Francisco Giants. The reigning World Series champions limp into Arizona held together with duct tape and bubble gum. But they're still in first place, a half game ahead of the Diamondbacks.

The Giants have been battered by injuries. Pablo Sandoval will rejoin the team in Arizona, but Buster Posey is lost for the season and the team is waiting on the fate of Freddy Sanchez. The Giants are second-to-last in the majors in runs scored with just 237. They're surviving because of their pitching staff.

Which brings us back to Lincecum. The Giants ace, poster boy, "the Franchise" has hit another rough patch. In his past four games he's given up 19 earned runs. In his last effort, a 10-0 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, he matched his career-high in earned runs with seven and recorded a career-low one strikeout.

He hasn't been the stopper the Giants have come to rely on over the past four seasons.

"I was just kind of flying all over the place," Lincecum said after his last start. "I didn't have any command at all."

Lincecum's struggles correlate directly with the season-ending loss of Buster Posey. Posey was injured in a home plate collision on May 25. Lincecum's next start was May 27 in Milwaukee, where he gave up three runs and needed a grand slam from his team to save him. The next three starts have all been rocky. His ERA over the stretch is 7.66.

Lincecum denies that there's a Posey factor. The Giants haven't added a new catcher, continuing to rely on backup Eli Whiteside and minor league call-up Chris Stewart. Critics wonder how long the Giants can survive without more help behind the plate. But Lincecum says the catcher isn't the problem.

"Not at all," Lincecum said. "I mean when you go out there, whether it's with Whitey or Stewart, you have to go out there and make pitches."

But there's a ring of familiarity in what Lincecum is going through. He struggled last summer and conceded that part of his problem was an adjustment to the rookie Posey after Bengie Molina was traded.

Molina had helped groom Lincecum from the day he arrived in the big leagues and the young pitcher had come to rely on the veteran. When Molina was traded to Texas in July, Lincecum hated to see him go.

Lincecum had other problems such as his conditioning and between-starts routine that contributed to his rough August, when he lost five straight. But he straightened himself out. He and Posey got on the same page. By the time the Giants finished playing, Lincecum was a seasoned playoff ace and he and Posey had won a World Series together. They were in a groove.

With Posey behind the plate, Lincecum started this year where he ended in November, with a 2.06 ERA and 75 strikeouts through his first 10 games. He had added some weight and gotten stronger in the offseason and there was a lot of talk about his improved durability.

But then he hit his rough patch. Lincecum, with his sinking change-up, is a tricky guy to catch. Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that mutual confidence between battery mates could be a concern.

"The more that these guys catch him, the more they'll get used to him," said Bochy. "Buster's always had him. I think that sense of confidence will be on the other end with Timmy, too."

Another theory for what's behind Lincecum's recent woes was that his last dominant outing was a 133-pitch shutout performance against the Oakland A's. Pitch count has always been a concern with Lincecum.

"I don't feel like it's fatigue, I don't feel like I'm getting tired, I don't feel like anything's broken," Lincecum said. "I just feel like it's a matter of getting back to being me."

Lincecum says he needed to stop over thinking and rely on his body.

'Kind of dummifying myself," he said. "Keep it simple."

In the desert, the Giants will try to hold onto first place then come back to the Bay Area for an interleague war of attrition with the run-challenged A's.

Lincecum's next start will come against Oakland, a team he's dominated throughout his career, with a 5-0 career record.

"That's a definite positive that I can take, go into that start and feed off that," Lincecum said. "I think the key for me is to get my mental state right and fix what's going on."

Lincecum knows that -- with all the Giants other woes -- the pitching has to be superb.

"It's not about carrying the team," he said, "it's just about being a large aspect of it, doing your job."

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