This was never going to be easy for Tim Lincecum and the Giants, and both sides probably started to figure that out long ago.
This can't be done in any happy-peppy method. This won't be performed on anyone's ideal timetable.
But now that the Giants and Lincecum are facing the void, they can finally get it done once and for all, right here and now:
It's time for the Giants to assemble a plan to pull Lincecum from the starting rotation -- possibly as early as right now -- and send him into a new career as a reliever.
Stop dancing around the issue. Forget about the nostalgia of the recent past.
Pass through the stages of grief, rage and denial and get to acceptance.
Really, the faster everybody faces the reality that Lincecum's starry starting career has, at age 30, effectively come to a close ... the faster everybody can move forward.
And I believe that's what Lincecum and manager Bruce Bochy began to do in the wake of his short, dismal outing in Washington on Saturday.
Bochy said he didn't know if Lincecum would make his next start -- scheduled for Thursday at home against Colorado.
For his part, Lincecum said he'd understand if the Giants use another starter in that game.
Which is combined Giants code for: We tried and tried, this isn't working, maybe it'd be good to get Yusmeiro Petit back into the rotation.
And Lincecum out. Maybe it happens Thursday, maybe it's the start after that or five after that, but eventually, Lincecum will be out of the Giants' rotation.
The facts are clear: This was Lincecum's sixth consecutive poor start, raising his season ERA to 4.64.
That's after Lincecum registered a 4.37 ERA last season and 5.18 in 2012.
If you like fancy stats, Lincecum had a negative WAR in 2012 and 2013 (negative value vs. a replacement-level player) and he was at 0.0 on the baseball-reference.com valuing before Saturday's outing.
That is not good. Any other pitcher, with any other past portfolio, would've been demoted long ago.
Of course, nobody should throw away Lincecum's two Cy Young awards and the two World Series trophies; but those don't mean much any more for a team trying to earn a playoff spot in 2014.
The truth is, Lincecum hasn't been a consistent performer since 2011 -- which is 91 regular-season starts ago.
The Giants have kept throwing Lincecum out there every fifth game, anyway, and they gave him that unbelievable two-year, $35 million contract last offseason ... because they wanted to keep believing in him.
They wanted to put off the inevitable, painful decision. They wanted to sell more "55" jerseys and wanted Lincecum to turn it around.
And yes, Lincecum gave them that no-hitter late last year, then another one this June -- both against the Padres; yes, he has lit up AT&T Park several times a year, through all of this.
He doesn't deserve to be a starter anymore, though, not if you assess the totality of his performance.
Can Petit translate his recent brilliant run as a long reliever into a starting role? Maybe -- on Saturday, Petit threw 41/3 perfect innings, extending his current streak to 38 consecutive batters retired.
If Petit can't do it, maybe somebody else can. The Giants have to try and see.
For 2015 plans, they have Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, and they can possibly re-sign Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong; if Matt Cain comes back healthy from elbow surgery, that's a five-man rotation.
Which doesn't include Lincecum.
No, this isn't about missing personal catcher Hector Sanchez, who has been out with a concussion.
It's about lost velocity and shaky focus. It's about a fastball that tops out at 89 mph and cruises in the 86-87 range after the first 40 or 50 pitches.
It's about a pitcher who has to pace himself, especially in hotter weather, and on the days when he has nothing to start with, it's all over.
It's about a pitcher who can't win road games against good teams -- so far, Lincecum has a 6.33 ERA on the road, with a 1.66 WHIP.
At home, he has a 3.52 ERA, with a 1.24 WHIP.
In a similar situation, the Giants carried Barry Zito and his $126 million contract in the rotation for years, but they had no other choice once that money was spent.
Zito couldn't pitch out of the bullpen, and there was no money available to replace him in the rotation, anyway.
Lincecum proved he can bring his best stuff out of the 'pen during the 2012 postseason, and he is under contract for only one more season.
He might be able to do what Dennis Eckersley (at 32) and John Smoltz (at 34) did before him and turn into a Hall of Fame candidate as a reliever.
And there is no logical reason for him to continue failing as a starter, or for the Giants to allow him to.
A look at Tim Lincecum's drop in production as a starter since the All-Star break:
W L IP H ERA
Pre All-Star 9 5 113.0 97 3.66
Post All-Star 1 4 31.2 46 8.24
Nationals pounce on Lincecum, Giants. PAGE 5