The question for the San Francisco Giants is a simple one: is Tim Lincecum back?
It certainly seemed so in Lincecum's last start, when he threw his first career no-hitter. And in a twist of fate he'll follow that outing on Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds, who had a no-hitter of their own against the Giants earlier this month and visit San Francisco for the first of four straight meetings.
Lincecum was on the losing end of Homer Bailey's 3-0 no-hitter for the Reds on July 2, which was actually a decent outing for the Giants right-hander given his previous struggles against Cincinnati. He is 0-2 against the Reds lifetime with a 6.85 earned run average in four starts.
Following a no-decision versus the New York Mets, Lincecum snapped a four- decision losing streak by hurling the 15th no-hitter in Giants team history. He walked four, hit a batter and struck out 13 in a 9-0 victory in San Diego, claiming his first win since June 4.
"I felt fine out there from the first pitch," said Lincecum, who threw 148 pitches to surpass his previous career high. "Maybe just a little sweaty."
It has been an up-and-down ride for the 29-year-old and two-time former NL Cy Young Award winner. He posted a 5.18 ERA in 33 starts last year and is just 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA through 19 starts this season.
"It's good to see something nice happen for Timmy with his ups and downs the last couple of years," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Lincecum now has the chance to become only the second pitcher in major league history to throw consecutive no-hitters. In another coincidence, the only pitcher to do so was Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer in 1938.
Going against the recharged Lincecum will be Reds righty Bronson Arroyo, who has allowed five runs over his past three outings while going 2-1 with 19 innings pitched over that time.
That stretch began with an 8-1 win over San Francisco on July 1 as Arroyo allowed just one run, two hits and a walk. Following a loss to Seattle, he then won in Atlanta on July 12 after logging seven frames of one-run, three- hit ball.
That allowed the 36-year-old to go into the All-Star break above .500 at 8-7 with a 3.42 ERA through 19 starts. He is 4-5 lifetime against the Giants with a 3.00 ERA in 13 meetings (12 starts).
Cincinnati was eyeing a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but lost Sunday's finale 3-2.
Bailey lost his third straight start since his no-hitter despite a career-high 12 strikeouts. He gave up four straight hits in a two-run seventh inning that put the Pirates in front.
The Reds had just three hits in the game, including two by Shin-Soo Choo, who extended his hitting streak to 15 straight games.
"Well, I don't really have much of a hand in that," said Bailey about the lack of run support. "Days like today, after a while it may start getting to you a bit, but I just have to keep going out there and trying to make pitches."
The Giants were also looking to sweep their series over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but lost Sunday's finale 3-1.
Giants All-Star Madison Bumgarner was a hard-luck loser, yielding just one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked three while his club went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and lost for the second time in its last seven games.
"He's been throwing great all year, that's why he made the All-Star team," said Bochy. "He gave us a chance to get the sweep."
The Reds took all three meetings at home versus the Giants from July 1-3, with the finale of the four-game set postponed due to weather. That contest will be made up with a doubleheader on Tuesday in San Francisco.
In the first game of the twin bill, the Reds will bat in the bottom of the inning but will statistically remain the visiting team.