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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lincecum licks Cards again

There was little room for interpretation in the San Francisco Giants' 3-0 domination of the Cardinals on Saturday at Busch Stadium. Tim Lincecum wouldn't allow it.

For the second time in a week, the baby-faced Lincecum stuffed the NL Central leaders, and for the second time in a week Joel Pineiro found himself on the wrong end of the decision. Because of it, the Giants, who are 4-8 against the rest of the league, leveled their record to 3-3 against the Cardinals.

Third baseman Jose Castillo's two-out double in the third inning, center fielder Aaron Rowand's solo home run in the fourth inning and Rowand's two-out single to score Ray Durham in the sixth were plenty for the Giants.

"The home run would've done it for them, 1-0," Pineiro said.

Lincecum's dominance was indisputable. Evaluating Pineiro's second start since returning from the disabled list depended on the angle.

Manager Tony La Russa referred to Pineiro as "just OK. He's not quite himself yet. He's improving. And the couple times he wasn't quite right they nailed him."

Pineiro lasted only 3 2/3 innings in last Sunday's loss. This time he got 11 groundouts without striking out a batter for the second consecutive game. Pineiro got only four swinging misses from 27 hitters faced and is without a strikeout against 48 hitters since leaving the DL. Pineiro downplayed the statistic.

"I don't look for strikeouts," he said. "The more I can get the hitters on the first three or four pitches, the longer I'm in the game. If strikeouts come, that's good. But I don't sit there when I've got a guy 0-2 or 1-2 thinking, 'All right, I'm going to strike this guy out.'"

Pineiro's standing is an important issue as Mark Mulder's return from rehab nears.

"I think his stuff can be more consistent. We've seen it better consistently, and his location fits that. It's how he pitches. He's not quite there yet," La Russa said.

Pineiro (0-2) mixed 56 strikes among 89 pitches, and he disputes the notion that he lags.

"I don't think I need to go out there and try to do more than I'm doing now," he said. "Maybe just hit a little better spot. But I feel I'm where I need to be."

The Cardinals entered Saturday leading the league with a .282 team average, a figure made more impressive by their opponents' .242 mark. But those statistics don't apply against Lincecum, who struck out 11 in six innings of the Giants' 7-4 win last Sunday at AT&T Park. This time, the Redbirds managed six singles, three walks and had only two runners reach third base against him. Lincecum zipped through three innings in 26 pitches, allowing him to hold back part of his arsenal for when things got tight later.

The Cardinals bounced into three double plays in the first five innings and didn't threaten again until the seventh inning.

"No. 1, his velocity is really good. He's out there throwing 95 miles per hour," said left fielder Chris Duncan, who singled and made hard contact twice against Lincecum. "When he doesn't pitch well is when he's not locating. Today, he located really good."

Lincecum (3-0) stuck to his fastball and change-up early, then mixed in a curveball and slider when dealing with runners in scoring position.

"He gets in a jam and suddenly he's firing something you haven't seen yet," Duncan said. "I think he did a real good job of mixing it up."

The Redbirds' best chance passed in the fourth inning after right fielder Skip Schumaker and Duncan led off with back-to-back singles and first baseman Albert Pujols led 3-0 in the count.

Lincecum threw a fastball for strike one and a slider for strike two. La Russa then put both runners in motion on the full count. Lincecum almost bounced a curveball that Pujols chased for the strikeout as Schumaker and Duncan advanced. Center fielder Rick Ankiel also struck out and No. 5 hitter Adam Kennedy bounced to shortstop.

The Cardinals were 0 for nine with runners in scoring position, putting their average in such situations this season at .250. Jack Taschner, Tyler Walker and closer Brian Wilson worked the last six outs against seven hitters as the Cardinals lost their first shutout since Sept. 3.

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