SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum doesn't spin and twirl on purpose. The pirouette off the mound isn't meant to be showy, it just kind of happens when he is locked in, throwing the ball where he wants and getting strikeouts that send him whirling back to the dugout one shutdown inning after the next.
Against the Atlanta Braves on Monday night, the slender Giants right-hander looked like he was auditioning for the Bolshoi.
Lincecum had not recorded an out past the sixth inning of his first seven starts, but he was electrifying through 72/3 innings of a 4-2 win at AT&T Park. He gave up just two hits and one run while striking out 11. The only time over the past three up-and-down seasons that Lincecum has struck out more was when he no-hit the San Diego Padres last July 13.
"It was vintage Timmy," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had a good look about him tonight."
True to that vintage form, Lincecum turned to improvisation while finding a rhythm that carried him through his best start of the season. After throwing two breaking balls past Justin Upton with a runner on in the first, Lincecum buried a third one at the knees and got an early double play. At that moment, it clicked. He had a pitch he could go to all night, even if he wasn't quite sure what to call it.
"It was this slider-curveball thing I was throwing," he said of a pitch he threw with a slider grip. "Today it was just doing a little more than it has in the past. It was a slurve thing ... going this way and then that. As long as it's going down and missing bats, I'm happy with it."
Lincecum dodged plenty of barrels. Of his 113 pitches, a season-high 24 were swinging strikes, including 12 whiffs on his big-breaking slider.
"When it started working early in the game, I leaned on it," Lincecum said.
He made just one mistake, a slider that B.J. Upton hit for a solo homer in the fifth. An inning later, Michael Morse's error put Jason Heyward on second. Lincecum was committed to keeping the Braves' big bats from beating him, and he walked All-Star Freddie Freeman on four pitches. He then struck out Chris Johnson on three sliders.
Lincecum got an early lead when Tyler Colvin, in his first home plate appearance as a Giant, pulled off a rare feat by crushing an elevated fastball into McCovey Cove. Colvin's first hit of the season was the 65th splash hit by a Giant.
"That was a great feeling right there," said Colvin, who will get plenty of time in left with Morse filling in for injured first baseman Brandon Belt. "It's a great opportunity here, and you definitely want to take advantage of it."
Colvin continued to do that in the seventh. With the game tied 1-1, Hector Sanchez singled and Brandon Crawford reached on a fielding error by first baseman Freeman. Colvin followed with a two-run triple that might have penned his name onto the lineup card for a few weeks. Bochy has said he'll go with the hot hand in left field, and Colvin drove in more runs in his first start than Gregor Blanco has all season.
The triple all but clinched a win for Lincecum, who walked off the mound to an ovation that was louder than any the home crowd has given a pitcher this season.
"It's pretty special here every time these guys give you something like that," Lincecum said. "I definitely took it in."
"I guess I'm doing about as good as I could be," he said. "It kind of sucks, but it's not all negative. I'll sit back and watch the game, and when I've done that in the past I've figured out small things here and there that I can do better."
Belt will have two pins inserted in the thumb Tuesday. The Giants are planning on being without their slugging first baseman for about eight weeks.
Atlanta (Mike Minor 0-2)
at Giants (Ryan Vogelsong 1-1), 7:15 p.m. CSNBA