Bengie Molina can tell a lot about Tim Lincecum just by watching the way he carries himself. There's no need to talk. There's no need for a radar gun.
A pitcher is worth a thousand words.
"What stands out to me is his body language," Molina said Monday.
Molina, 37, spent 31/2 seasons with the Giants starting in 2007. The two-time Gold Glover was behind the plate for Lincecum's major league debut on May 6, 2007, and was the regular catcher for both of the right-hander's Cy Young Award seasons.
In the search for an explanation for Lincecum's down season -- 2-8, with a 6.07 ERA and a career-worst 10-game winless streak -- it made sense to check in with a player who had such a prime seat for the four-time All-Star's better days.
Speaking from his home in Arizona, Molina was more than willing to join us for an extended trip to the mound. He repeatedly stressed that Lincecum's biggest hurdle is rediscovering his swagger -- even without his old 98 mph fastball.
"Obviously, this is easy to say now because he was doing well when I was there, but his demeanor was always: 'I'm going after you no matter what. If I give up a hit or a homer, the next guy better watch out.'
"That's the kind of approach he had."
Molina's view echoes the comments of Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who said Lincecum snapped back into form during a recent start only after getting ticked off. Lincecum retired 18 of his final 20 hitters after
"He said enough is enough and took control," Bochy said.
That resilience sounded familiar to Molina.
"Exactly, exactly. That's what I'm trying to tell you: (Lincecum) did that all the time," he said. "No matter if he gave up a double, no matter if he gave up anything, he was taking charge of the game.
"In the games that I've seen that he's lost, it's because he's beat himself. ... If you don't have that confidence and if you don't have that fight in you, I think it's really easy for you to lose the game."
Molina sees the physical issues, too. Lincecum's velocity is in the low 90s, down from the sizzle of the right-hander's youth. Also different, the catcher said, is that Lincecum's fastball no longer darts with the movement of a few years ago.
"It was really, really nasty. It ran like a sinker but not necessarily down," Molina said. "The hitters couldn't hit that -- none of them could. It would run right into their hands."
"I don't see that sinker going into the right-handers anymore," he said. "I don't see it as much, I should say, because I'm sure that he's trying. But I don't see it as much."
Even with that drop-off, however, Molina said Lincecum's stuff is still good enough to thrive. Molina spent 13 seasons in the majors watching pitchers try to reinvent themselves and said Lincecum is a prime candidate to do so as well because of a strong assortment of other pitches.
"He threw 99. I remember that," Molina said. "Well, guess what? This year, he's at 91 and maybe 92. So find a way to get people out with your 91, 92. Just go out there and battle. It might be a process, but I know you're going to get it. It's a mind game. It seriously is."
In the meantime, Molina urged fans and the Giants organization to show patience. He noted that Lincecum has never struggled for such a prolonged stretch -- at any level -- so this much-scrutinized slump must be brutal.
"Hey, listen, give the kid a break. He earned the respect to get one year like this,'' Molina said. "This is a very important time to support him through this and be there for him.
"He has two Cy Youngs. He's an All-Star. He's a World Series champ, man. Just give him a break. Maybe this is a learning experience for him this year, and next year he'll pick it up and he'll be better.
"It's all in his head. As soon as he gets over that hump, you guys are going to see the same guy who dominated. That kid is unbelievable."