Back on the mound in his home ballpark, Tim Lincecum was still far from his old form.
The former ace allowed five runs in his final start before the regular season, and the San Francisco Giants lost to the Oakland Athletics 7-3 in the Bay Bridge Series opener Thursday night.
With a black-and-orange crowd announced at 40,630 returning for the first time since San Francisco won the World Series last October, many left guessing about Lincecum's future again. He struck out six and walked one in 4 2-3 innings. He gave up five hits, including a home run to Yoenis Cespedes for the second straight start.
Lincecum ended a shaky spring with a 10.57 ERA in five starts.
"I wish I would've gotten out there more," he said. "But I think we're at the point where you just kind of have to put that at the wayside, and you just have to compete out there to get outs. That's where it all happens. I feel like my stuff is getting there."
Lincecum looked every bit in his comfort zone at the start in front of an adoring fan base that supported The Freak through last season's funk. San Francisco is still anxious to see Lincecum find the dominance that won him consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, especially after watching him regroup in the bullpen in the postseason.
Lincecum mowed down the A's lineup with ease over the first three innings. His velocity was still down in low 90s (mph), but his control was better, tossing 20 of 24 pitches for strikes.
Brandon Crawford backed Lincecum's effort when the shortstop ran to his left to snag Eric Sogard's grounder, spun on the edge of the center field grass and threw him out for the first out of the third. Crawford also had an RBI triple in the fourth.
Hunter Pence doubled down the left field line with two outs before NL MVP Buster Posey singled him home to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the third.
There was a heavier sprinkling of green and gold throughout the ballpark from extra-giddy A's fans eager to see how their low-budget club can follow up its surprising AL West title last season. Tommy Milone gave up two runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings. He struck out five and walked two, giving plenty of reason for A's fans to cheer.
"It's definitely a better feeling. A night game, you've got a lot of fans here in a big league park," Milone said. "It didn't feel like a spring training game. It's definitely a better feeling."
Cespedes helped Oakland crash San Francisco's party when he sent an 82 mph changeup well over the wall in left to put the A's ahead 2-1 in the fourth. Cespedes dropped his bat and stared for a moment before trotting around the bases, leaving Lincecum looking lost again.
Cespedes also hit a towering homer off Lincecum in his previous start. Lincecum gave up five runs and six hits in three innings of a 12-5 loss to the A's last week in Arizona.
"He just made two bad pitches look like home runs," Lincecum said. "Good thing he's in the AL."
Lincecum labored for his final five outs. Sogard hit an RBI single off Lincecum in the fifth. After a two-out walk to Jed Lowrie, Lincecum was pulled for lefty Jeremy Affeldt, who gave up a three-run shot to Josh Reddick that put Oakland ahead 6-2.
San Francisco's lanky right-hander has said all spring that he is determined to redeem himself and prove his worth as a starter in a contract year. He worked out with a personal trainer during the offseason to add about 10 pounds of strength, tweaked his mechanics and even cut his long locks for a fresh start.
Instead, a lot of the same troubling signs have surfaced this spring, with Lincecum coming unraveled in one bad inning the way he so often did last year. He finished 0-3 with a .324 opponents' batting average in exhibition games.
Lincecum is slated to slide into the third spot in the rotation behind right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Madison Bumgarner.
"You want to take something from (spring), but you don't want to take everything just because we were down in Arizona most of time, and it's a different game," Lincecum said. "Guys are trying different things. But you still have to compete. You still want to show better numbers."
NOTES: Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval took batting practice and fielding drills before the game. Manager Bruce Bochy said the World Series MVP could play Friday or Saturday and possibly be ready for opening day. Sandoval has been sidelined since March 16 because of an inflamed nerve in his right elbow. ... Oakland INF Hiro Nakajima is unlikely to play during the series after straining his left hamstring Tuesday, manager Bob Melvin said. Nakajima was scheduled to be examined by doctors in the Bay Area on Thursday night.