SAN FRANCISCO -- As Tim Lincecum battled through the last few starts of what was by far his most trying season, it became clear this would be a different postseason experience for him than the Giants' 2010 World Series run.Just how different became apparent Sunday, when the Giants announced Ryan Vogelsong will start Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Reds on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. PT on TBS. With Barry Zito and even Game 1 starter Matt Cain other options for a potential Game 4, Lincecum's role appears to be in relief, for this series at least -- which of course is a huge departure from just two years earlier. "My reaction is I know what to prepare for now," Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, told a large gathering of reporters as he left batting practice prior to Game 2. "So I'll go with that mindset today and do whatever they want me to do. That's really all I can do."
Lincecum didn't have to wait long to make a relief appearance, pitching two shutout innings while allowing one hit in the middle part of Sunday's 9-0 Game 2 loss to the Reds.As shocking as it might be for one of the game's most accomplished aces of the last several years to be shifted to bullpen duties, it's not like it comes out of the blue for Lincecum, or the Giants. Lincecum finished the season with a 10-15 mark and 5.18 ERA, both well off his career norm. He didn't have a monthly ERA below his 3.90 in August and finished with a 4.63 ERA in five September starts, being pegged with seven earned runs on Sept. 25 and four in his Sept. 30 season finale. Giants manager Bruce Bochy wouldn't rule out Lincecum for Game 4 after Sunday's game, even after Lincecum's 17-pitch relief outing. "I was glad to see him throw like that, and he was really good, I thought, with his command, kept the ball down and had all of his pitches working," Bochy said. "Now we have the option if we want to use him in the 'pen the first or second game in Cincinnati or start him, we have that option." It's apparent, however, that Plan A is to have Lincecum pitch in relief, as he did Sunday. "Normally, it wouldn't be this way, but I think it's fair to say it's been an up-and-down year for Timmy," Bochy said. "He's been battling himself at times, with his delivery and command, and it's been a fight for him all year." That his role in 2012 might be different than it was in 2010 was certainly something that had crossed Lincecum's mind, even if the 28-year-old right-hander's focus was still on contributing as a starter. "It was more of an open mindset that if I'm starting, I'm starting, and if I'm in the bullpen, I understand and know the reasons why," Lincecum said. "It's about earning it. It's not about what you've done, it's about what you've done for them lately, and my last two starts weren't very good." That's the attitude he brought to his discussions with Bochy as the decision to pitch Vogelsong in Game 3 and the repercussions from that came to the fore. "Any position I can be in to help the team, whether that's out of the bullpen or making a long-relief appearance or anything, it doesn't really matter to me," Lincecum said. Said Bochy: "He said, 'Sure, I'd like to start, but I understand and I'm going to do whatever I can to help this club go farther.' " Lincecum was one of many postseason stars for the Giants in 2010, going 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six appearances, including one out of the bullpen. Much like he did with Zito, left off the postseason roster in 2010, and Pablo Sandoval, benched for most of the '10 run, Bochy had a conversation with Lincecum a couple of days ago that neither wanted to have. "Sure, it's not easy to tell a pitcher that's accomplished what he has, and we know what he's done for us," Bochy said. "But you have to look at what's happening today, and this year. And Timmy, like I said, he understands that." This particular postseason experience is very different for Lincecum, that much is certain. Just as certain is that Lincecum is taking it like a member of a team, not like an individual disappointed in his own lot. "I feel like it's all about how you respond to it," he said. "Right now, I don't want to be that guy who's throwing a tantrum because I'm not getting what I want or what I deserve and whatnot. It's not about that. Right now it's about the team and right now it's about winning. It's not about stats or about individual awards. It's about the team." And on this team, at this time, Lincecum's role might be in long relief, not as staff ace. "I'm just waiting for that chance, and if it comes up, I'll do my best," Lincecum said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.