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From left, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy sits with Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum during a ceremony in which the team received its 2012 World Series rings. (Ezra Shaw/The Associated Press)
From left, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy sits with Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum during a ceremony in which the team received its 2012 World Series rings. (Ezra Shaw/The Associated Press)

Once dominant starters, Zito and Lincecum at career crossroads Add to ...

In GQ Magazine, he said: “At some point, you’re just like, ‘Okay, can we talk about today, please?’ But nobody wants to talk about today. And that’s why I don’t really do [interviews] any more, because it just becomes this whole storyline. Of course you can’t get mad at that, because baseball fans … want to hear it, and I get that; but for my own kind-of-just-staying-in-the-present moment, it doesn’t serve me to keep turning over.”

Righetti stressed a pitcher’s adjustments need to be subtle as he reaches career speed bumps – change speeds more often, focus on holding the base runners, alter the mix of pitches, things like that. “But you never want to grab at straws, because that’s when it becomes dangerous.”

They need to remain true to the basic foundation of pitching that got them to the majors in the first place. Zito had to rely less on the curve that hitters began to ignore, and also to accept the cut fastball he once was able to run in on right-handed hitters was no longer as effective.

He’s evolved on the field, too. Left off the postseason roster in the 2010 championship season due to performance, he pitched poorly against Cincinnati in the 2012 NLDS but rebounded to win a critical Game 5 against St. Louis in the NLCS, and dominated Detroit in a World Series victory. This year, with a 4-4 record, he’s got one of the best ERAs at home, one of the worst on the road.

In the clubhouse last Wednesday, after a 4-0 loss in a duel with Jays starter R.A. Dickey, Zito spoke with composure and grace, accepting blame for a four-run inning, even though a couple of defensive plays had worked against him. When talk turned to the Biogenesis clinic doping scandal, he spoke with authority and praised baseball’s diligence in trying to weed out drug cheats, saying: “Accountability is a good thing.”

Zito may have settled into being a .500 pitcher accountable to providing his team about six innings each time out and a chance to win, his walks and hits per inning up a couple of degrees over his career average but still within reasonable range.

Lincecum, in contrast, has reached a point of struggling to get off the ropes in his seventh season.

Wearing hair to his shoulders, Lincecum, 28, was nicknamed “The Freak” during his dominant seasons. Now, also dubbed locally as Big Time Timmy Jim, there’s open speculation in San Fran his fastball-changeup-slider repertoire may be better suited to the bullpen.

“We need him to get on track,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, before his start last Tuesday, a 2-1 San Fran win. “He’s a hard one to figure out. He’s healthy, and his stuff is better than last year.”

Lincecum opted to sign a two-year, $40.5-million deal before the 2012 season. That strategy would have ostensibly left him as a free agent in the prime of his career. Instead, he went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, and this year, has performed little better at 4-5 and 4.75.

At 5 foot 11 and 170 pounds, Lincecum puts a lot of stress on his arm with an energetic, highly-torqued pitching motion out of the three-quarter slot. In 2011, he weighed 30 pounds more than he did in 2012. In the off-season, he worked out with trainers in Washington to build strength and regulate fluctuating weight. It’s critical to his pitches that his delivery is repeated consistently, the arm in the correct slot position – a matter of strength and endurance.

“Ali stood there, took more of a beating but won,” Righetti said. “As guys get older, they go through different phases. A lot of pitchers, around that fifth or sixth year, start to settle into an area where guys are comfortable hitting against you. In the 100-, 120-starts range …you’ve got an opportunity to do something different.”

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