SAN FRANCISCO -- Five weeks ago Tim Lincecum appeared headed for a third straight NL Cy Young award. Now the San Francisco ace is in the biggest rut of his career and searching for a way out.
Lincecum lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up a season-high six earned runs in his latest setback, a 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday.
The Giants right-hander, who has only one win in his last six starts, allowed six hits and struck out five but walked five and hit a batter.
"He was out of sync tonight, there's no getting around that," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "We all go through it and he's going through a stretch here where he's struggling getting the ball where he wants. He's human. He's done an incredible job but as good as he is, he's going to have his stretches."
Lincecum, who was nearly flawless in April while winning his first four starts, struggled with his command for a third straight outing and allowed the Nationals to steal four bases while rolling to just their third win against the Giants in 15 games between the two teams.
It was his shortest outing of the season and the most earned runs Lincecum (5-1) has allowed since Sept. 23, 2008.
"It's completely frustrating," Lincecum said. "But at the same time I don't want to beat myself up over it. I have plenty of other outings to go through. Right now I just need to go back ... and figure out whatever the hell is going on."
There were reports earlier in the day that Lincecum has been pitching with a blister on his right hand but the two-time NL Cy Young winner downplayed the talk afterward, saying it had nothing to do with his performance.
For a Giants team that has come to expect nothing but the best when Lincecum pitches, seeing their star pitcher struggle is startling.
"Sure, there's a sense of confidence when he hits the mound but we also realize he's going to have off days, just like all of us," Bochy said. "The biggest issue with him is his command. It's getting away from him so we have some work to do."
Luis Atilano (4-1) pitched 5 1/3 innings for the win and didn't walk anyone for the first time this season while helping Washington beat San Francisco for just the third time in 15 games.
The Nationals, held to two runs on Tuesday by Todd Wellemeyer, had no problems scoring against Lincecum.
"I don't know if it says anything," Washington manager Jim Riggleman said. "I think our guys felt that let's go out there and battle and get back on the winning track. It's a game and I know our guys feel good about the win but we'll shower it off and crank it back up tomorrow."
Coming off his worst outing of the season when he gave up five earned runs before drawing a no-decision in an 8-7 loss to Arizona last week, Lincecum pitched out of jams in the first and second innings before the Nationals got to him for three runs in the third.
After a 1-2-3 fourth, Lincecum ran into trouble again in the fifth after issuing two leadoff walks, giving up a sacrifice fly and hitting Willingham with one out. The right-hander retired Roger Bernadina on a comebacker but Desmond singled up the middle to make it 6-0.
That ended a rough month for Lincecum. After winning his first four starts and compiling a 1.27 ERA in April, Lincecum finished 1-1 with a 4.99 ERA in May.
Atilano made his first career start against the Giants while staying unbeaten on the road. In four career starts away from Nationals Park, he is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA as opposed to 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA at home.
He retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before giving up a leadoff home run to Juan Uribe in the fifth. Atilano was tagged for another run in the sixth after reliever Doug Slate allowed an RBI double to Pablo Sandoval.
The Giants placed SS Edgar Renteria on the 15-day DL due to a strained right hamstring. Renteria, who just came off the DL from a groin injury, hurt himself while running out a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 4-2 win over Washington. ... San Francisco LHP Jeremy Affeldt (strained left hamstring) was unavailable but "he'll be ready real soon," manager Bruce Bochy said. ... Giants 1B Aubrey Huff was charged with an error in the first inning after his return throw to Lincecum following a pickoff attempt glanced off the pitcher's glove, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to take second. ... The Giants plan to retire the jersey number worn by Hall of Famer and former Negro Leagues great Monte Irvin, who spent seven seasons with the team. Irvin wore No. 20.