SAN DIEGO -- The Giants have been burned before by Tim Lincecum's starts and stops. They have declared that "Timmy is back," only to watch him go through yet another rough stretch.
But after Sunday's gem, the third straight by the right-hander, manager Bruce Bochy insisted this latest run might not be a mirage. Lincecum gave up just three hits and one run over 61/3 innings of a 5-3 win over the San Diego Padres, lowering his ERA to 3.91. He had a streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings going before Brooks Conrad hit a solo homer in the seventh.
Lincecum has been careful not to get too elated during a stellar three-start stretch that started with a no-hitter, but he admitted Sunday that his "confidence is kind of up right now."
"I can go to any pitch in any situation -- at least I feel like that," Lincecum continued. "I look for consistency, and this is about as consistent as I've been in the last few years."
Bochy thinks Lincecum is as comfortable on the mound as he's been at any point since his struggles started in early 2012.
"Timmy has just been on a good roll, and it's fun to watch with how poised he's been and how easy his delivery is right now," Bochy said. "He's pitching out there -- that's really been neat to watch. He's not overthrowing, he's not trying to power his way through.
"As they say, he has reinvented himself. He's really in the zone consistently, and that's why he's having so much success."
Less than two weeks after no-hitting the Padres, Lincecum flirted with history for the first three innings. A Jake Goebbert single in the fourth dissipated any thoughts of a third career no-hitter against the Padres, but Lincecum got out of that inning and then got a double play to erase a leadoff single in the sixth. Conrad, a goat for the Atlanta Braves in the 2010 NLDS against the Giants, provided the lone blemish with his solo shot.
"I have a better idea of what I want to do out there," Lincecum said. "I'm not overpowering teams with stuff. I'm just mixing up pitches and location. I feel I'm doing a better job of that."
Lincecum had the lone wins during a brutal 10-game homestand that preceded this series, pitching 17 scoreless innings to pick up those victories. On Sunday, the lineup aided his cause with five runs on eight hits.
The top of the lineup did nearly all the damage. Leadoff hitter Hunter Pence had three hits and scored three runs; Joe Panik had two hits, an RBI and scored twice as the No. 2 hitter; Brandon Belt drove in two runs; and Michael Morse added an RBI.
The output helped Lincecum lead the Giants to just their second series victory since June 9.
Bochy said Santiago Casilla will be the lone closer for the time being, with Jeremy Affeldt putting out fires in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Casilla pitched a perfect ninth to record his third save.
"He's day to day," Bochy said. "He's got a pretty good bone bruise in there when it hit his left elbow."
Bochy hopes to have Sandoval in the lineup Monday against the A's.
Starting with his June 25 no-hitter, Tim Lincecum seems to be back in top form for the Giants over his last three starts. Here's a look at those starts:
Date Opp. Result IP H ER BB SO
June 25 S.D. W, 4-0 9.0 0 0 1 6
Tuesday STL W, 5-0 8.0 4 0 2 6
Sunday @S.D. W, 5-3 6.1 3 1 4 6