Three years ago, it would have made for a marquee Opening Day pitching matchup.
Instead, when Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum and Dodgers righty Josh Beckett square off in Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. PT series finale at Dodger Stadium, both pitchers will be taking the mound with something to prove in 2013.
For Lincecum, it's a matter of showing that his disastrous 2012 season was truly an aberration. After winning back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2008-09 and finishing in the top 10 in the voting in '10-11, Lincecum wasn't even recognizable last season.
He posted career worsts in nearly every major pitching category, including losses (15), ERA (5.18) and walks (90), all while failing to throw a single complete game in 33 starts.
"I think I want what any player wants," said Lincecum, whose ERA last year jumped more than two runs from 2.74 in 2011. "At the end of the year you want to be playing in October and into November. Obviously on a personal note, coming off a lackluster year for me, coming back and surprising myself in a way and obviously surprising some [other] people would be a big thing for me."
Beckett gained his share of doubters last season as well, after struggling for a majority of the season with the Red Sox. He went just 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts in Boston before a late August trade sent him to Los Angeles, where he put up a much more respectable 2.93 ERA in seven starts.
The key, in Beckett's mind, to turning things around in 2013 will rely heavily on his performance the first few times through the rotation.
In 2010, Beckett had a 7.22 ERA in five April starts en route to a 6-6 record and career-worst 5.78 ERA. The following year, he started strong with a 2.65 April ERA leading to a solid 13-7, 2.89 ERA bounceback campaign. His early-season struggles returned last season, with the veteran going 2-3 with a 4.45 ERA in the opening month on his way to a long summer in Boston.
"In years when I've been good, I feel like I've gotten off to a good start and built some confidence in April," Beckett said. "In years where I fall behind, whether it be health or results, I've had some struggles trying to catch back up. I think a lot of that is just me being stubborn and trying to make up a few starts in one start and then I fall behind. I'm looking to get out to a good start."
That figures to be easier said than done Wednesday, as not only will each pitcher be dealing with the added individual pressure, but they will also be battling for the early bragging rights in the rubber match of one of the game's fiercest rivalries.
"You naturally rise to the occasion here because of the rivalry," Lincecum said. "Playing for the Giants, Dodger Blue is obviously going to get you a little bit more riled up. I think the environment here adds to that, too."
Giants: Belt dealing with illness
First baseman Brandon Belt sat out Tuesday's 3-0 victory due to nausea and a lack of energy. Belt initially played through the illness Monday, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but felt even worse upon reporting to the clubhouse Tuesday.
Manager Bruce Bochy called the timing of Belt's illness "a shame, really" considering the first baseman was coming off a stellar Spring Training in which he hit .410 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs.
On Tuesday, Belt was replaced in the lineup by utility man Joaquin Arias, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and an RBI. Bochy is hopeful that Belt can return to the lineup for Wednesday's series finale.
Dodgers: Crawford expected to return Wednesday
Carl Crawford is expected to start Wednesday's series finale in left field after being held out of Tuesday's starting lineup for precautionary reasons. He entered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, popping out before Mark Ellis struck out to end the game.
Coming off Tommy John surgery last August, Crawford is still working his left elbow back to full strength after being limited to 31 games with the Red Sox last season. He went 2-for-4 on Opening Day, singling in his first at-bat and later doubling and scoring a run during the Dodgers' decisive eighth-inning rally.
"We want to be able to ease him in," manager Don Mattingly said.
Jerry Hairston Jr. started in Crawford's place Tuesday, going 0-for-3 out of the leadoff spot before giving way to Crawford with one out and nobody on in the final inning.
• This is the first time in Matt Kemp's six full seasons with the Dodgers that he has gone hitless (0-for-6 with two strikeouts) through the first two games. From 2009-12, Kemp was a combined 13-for-31 (.419) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Dodgers' first two games of each season.
• The Dodgers and Giants have played to a perfect 37-37 split in their 74 meetings since the start of the 2009 season.