Walcoff: Two diamonds in Giants’ rough 

It’s no surprise the Giants’ streak of topping 3 million fans at AT&T Park for seven straight seasons will likely end this year. Minus Barry Bonds, S.F. has a bad and boring team, but there are two notable attractions in Orange and Black: Switch-hitting rookie Eugenio Velez and baby-faced pitcher Tim Lincecum.

The 23-year-old righty who still has to show his ID to rent an R-rated movie is a must-see when he takes the mound.

The Giants’ top pick in the 2006 draft threw a mere 26 innings in the minor leagues before being called up in May last year and all he’s done since is strike out 161 batters in 156¹/³ innings, post an 8-5 record and look great pitching in each of the Giants’ first two victories of the season.

Tim may wear the speed limit No. 55, but his fastball tops out at 100 mph, with a sweet changeup, a decent curve and, new for ’08, a slider. Hard to believe this pint-sized, 5-foot-11, 170-pounder has such command and poise.

Best of all, even with the nickname "the Franchise," Lincecum remains a low-key, unassuming presence in the Giants’ clubhouse, telling me this week he just wants to get better every time out. Lincecum’s next start is Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

» It’s been almost 20 years since the Giants had an exciting and talented leadoff hitter in Brett Butler. It’s been almost 30 years since Billy North set the S.F. franchise record for stolen bases, 58 in 1979.

So it’s about time the perennially slow-footed Giants remembered the value of speed at the top of the lineup. Hallelujah for Eugenio, sound it out now: "ay-oo-hen-ee-oh."

The 25-year-old Dominican is a thrill-a-minute player who stole 113 bases the last two seasons in the minors, with 20 triples in 2006. He can jump-start an offense anytime he steps onto the field. The question is where to put him. Velez is telling me he doesn’t have a preference, he just wants to play. With Dave Roberts on the disabled list, Velez is likely to get an extended look in left field. However, with a glut of outfielders and injury-prone, 36-year-old second baseman Ray Durham in the final year of his contract, the Giants hope to see Velez develop into a better infielder.

At 6-1, 160 pounds, Eugenio has surprising power, not as much as similarly built Chicago Cubs All-Star Alfonso Soriano, but if Velez becomes half the player his fellow countryman is, the Giants would be thrilled.

» If the Warriors fail to make the playoffs, some will rightly point to their misfortune of playing in the mighty West; only three of the eight East playoff teams have a better record than Golden State.

But don’t overlook Don Nelson’s penchant for burying rookies on the bench, only to complain that they don’t know or play the game well enough when the team could really use them. Wouldn’t the Warriors be better off if either 7-footer Patrick O’Bryant or 6-10 Brandan Wright were given meaningful minutes earlier in the season?

Think about that when you watch Denver Nuggets stars Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby fly around the rim tonight in Oakland.

Rich Walcoff is the sports director at KGO Radio (810 AM) and can be heard weekdays between 5-9 a.m. on the "KGO Morning News." He can also be reached at richwalcoff@abc-sf.com.

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