SAN FRANCISCO – When a Giants fan asked Buster Posey what position he’d like to play other than catcher, the former Florida State closer offered a sly smile.
“I’d like to try it out on the bump and see what I have,” Posey said.
OK, Tim Lincecum. Same question.
“To be honest, when I was a kid, I always wanted to put the gear on,” the right-hander said.
There you go: batterymates in reverse. That’s one way to stop people from asking why Posey and Lincecum don’t work together.
But actually, that question didn’t come up in the hour when the reigning NL MVP and the two-time Cy Young Award winner, flanked by the right reverend Hunter Pence, sat together on the third-base side Q&A stage at the Giants’ annual FanFest on Saturday.
Maybe that’s because Posey and Lincecum both addressed the issue, and perhaps tried to tamp down any lingering controversy, a day earlier when they met with reporters.
“Yeah, that's something that I'm going to be working on this year,” Lincecum said of working with Posey. “Obviously we didn't throw to each other many times last year, but when we did - in the playoffs - it worked out. There's nothing going on. It's just a matter who was coaching that day and who (manager Bruce) Bochy would put in there.”
Posey called the matter “just speculation. Timmy and I have a great relationship. And ultimately, he and I want the same thing, and that’s to win.”
Posey offered more praise for Lincecum, saying the right-hander appeared to be in great shape and expressed confidence that he would "work hard to make these adjustments to continually get better. What he did (as a reliever) in the playoffs still kind of blows me away. He was a weapon out of the 'pen that, if we didn't have, I"m not sure we would have won it all. For a guy with his credentials to do that, not to grumble about it, tells you what he's about."
But for all the mutual respect and glowing rhetoric, there remains a good chance Posey again will be picking up a first baseman’s glove often on Lincecum’s day to start this season. That’s because both Posey and Bochy have acknowledged that they plan for a similar workload as last season, when frequent breaks from catching allowed the NL MVP and NL batting champ to stay strong and even more productive through the second half.
And if you’re going to give regular rest to Posey, the best way to keep continuity between catchers and pitchers is to time those breaks for when a specific starter is on the mound. Plus Lincecum is the toughest member of the rotation to catch, because of all the stuff he throws in the dirt.
Those are the stated reasons why Hector Sanchez became Lincecum’s regular catcher last season. Unspoken, but also a factor, is that Lincecum connects best with a catcher who can pump him up on the mound and build his confidence, much like Bengie Molina used to do. Posey’s motivational speeches are more likely to be tough love than rah-rah rhetoric. And while Posey studies scouting reports and believes in attacking a hitter’s weaknesses, Lincecum is more like a jazz improvisationalist – going with the pitches that are working on a given day and that he has the most confidence to throw.
So yes, Posey and Lincecum do have some work to do as a battery. And given the relative stature and importance of both players, this isn't a topic that will die down anytime soon. But from everything I’ve gathered over the past two years, there’s no actual malice or dislike between the two.
Maybe the Giants wanted to demonstrate that by pairing them together on the Q&A stage Saturday.
And no, by the way, Lincecum doesn’t really want to put on catcher’s gear.
“Buster broke his ankle,” Lincecum said, of Posey’s collision at the plate two years ago. “I would have been killed."
The only really juicy question posed by fans on Saturday was when Lincecum was asked whether he’d rather be a Giant or a Mariner when he hits free agency following this season. After the requisite boos subsided, Lincecum offered a rather safe answer:
“Especially after last year, it’s getting back to myself and being the pitcher that I was," Lincecum said. "That really doesn’t leave any room for thinking about the future. It’s about now.”
Lincecum was asked what he did in the offseason and started to talk about going to Mexico and exercising when a fan yelled out, “AND YOU CUT YOUR HAIR!”
Lincecum said he actually surprised himself by the spur-of-the-moment decision. He just decided “that hair had run its course” and “once it was on the ground, there was no putting it back.”
He also had a headache for two days after getting the haircut, maybe because it felt so strange not to have those familiar shoulder-length locks. On the plus side, shampooing is a quicker process these days.
Perhaps the best moment of the entire day on the third base side Q&A stage was when Pence did his exaggerated impression of Lincecum’s delivery and then Lincecum responded with an even more exaggerated impression of Pence frenetically digging into the box. It had to be seen to be appreciated, and I wasn’t fast enough with my phone camera.
Posey was asked his favorite and least favorite road ballparks. He picked Wrigley Field as his favorite for its history, and Minute Maid Park in Houston as his least favorite because “it kind of feels like playing in an empty warehouse.”
Pence, the former Astro, responded with mock outrage: “It didn’t used to be like that, you know.”
Pence insisted that Posey has an underrated sense of humor. According to Pence, the first thing Posey said when he rejoined his teammates on Friday was, “The only reason I missed baseball so much is I couldn’t wait to make fun of you guys."
He'll have no shortage of targets. There will be 37 pitchers and a half-dozen catchers filtering into Scottsdale Stadium on Tuesday.