Tim Lincecum had pretty modest goals before starting the season with the Fresno Grizzlies.
The right-hander didn't set any numbers on how many wins or strikeouts he wanted or a target for when he wanted to be promoted to the San Francisco Giants, the team that selected him in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
"I wanted to feel like I belong," Lincecum said.
After only three Pacific Coast League starts, Lincecum has pretty much proven that he doesn't belong -- not at Triple-A, anyway.
On Tuesday night, Lincecum was just as dominant as he had been in his first two starts for the Grizzlies. The 22-year-old right-hander recorded 11 strikeouts and allowed three hits over 6 2/3 shutout innings before the Tacoma Rainiers rallied for a 2-1 victory at Cheney Stadium.
"It's early in the season. There's ups and downs," Lincecum said. "There's a lot more to it than just going out there and throwing every day. Things have gone well so far."
That qualifies as a significant understatement. Lincecum is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three starts, having allowed nine hits in 18 2/3 innings. He has 28 strikeouts and five walks. Numbers like that tend to result in a Major League promotion.
"They'd have to make room for me, and that's not my call," said Lincecum, who won the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's player of the year at the University of Washington. "There are a lot of good pitchers up there ahead of me. They have the experience and know-how to pitch. I still feel like I have things to prove."
It's difficult to tell what those things are right now. Lincecum is about halfway to the streak of 37 consecutive scoreless innings he posted during his junior year at Washington. He has not allowed more than four hits in any of his three starts and has fanned at least eight in each outing.
"I don't go out there and doubt myself. I'm going out there thinking, 'I belong here, and it's me and him and let the best man win,'" Lincecum said. "I have a little bit of arrogance against me. Even if [Albert] Pujols steps in against me, in the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'I can get this guy.'"
That matchup could happen sooner than he thinks. The Giants travel to St. Louis for a three-game series from July 6-8.
Critics point to Lincecum's slight stature -- he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 160 pounds -- and wonder if he can withstand the rigors of a Major League season. To this point, at least, he has completely outclassed Minor League hitters. In a brief stint with Class A Advanced San Jose last season, Lincecum was 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in six starts. He had 48 strikeouts and gave up 13 hits in 27 2/3 innings.
"If you look at guys like [Roy] Oswalt, Francisco Rodriguez, they're starting to see something about size. If you get outs, you get outs. That's what I was trying to do," Lincecum said. "I'm trying to get quick outs and trying to work ahead of batters and let the defense help me. I learned that more and more as I went thru the system and college. That's what I'm pushing to do."
Against the Rainiers, Lincecum had at least one strikeout in every inning and whiffed both batters he faced before being removed in the seventh. He didn't give up a hit until Adam Jones and Jeremy Reed had back-to-back singles to open off the fourth. Lincecum got Mike Morse to ground into a double play and struck out Bryan LaHair to escape his only jam.
Fresno (7-6) didn't have much more success with Tacoma starter Jorge Campillo, who yielded one run on five hits in six innings. Justin Leone doubled leading off the fourth and scored on Scott McClain's one-out single.
Tacoma (5-8) got to Brian Wilson (0-1) in its final at-bat. Morse led off with a double and was replaced by pinch-runner Gookie Dawkins. Wladimir Balentien walked with one out and both runners scored when Jeff Clement doubled. That made a winner of Brad Thomas (1-1), who pitched three hitless innings.