Since the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to move Brad Lincoln back into the bullpen after making five starts in the rotation, the right-hander has been nothing but impressive. The former first round pick by Pittsburgh continues to be an asset for the club in any role in 2012, but perhaps his last two outings have been glimpses into his future role — a closer.
While it takes a certain kind of mentality to close out a game, it’s not a question whether Lincoln has the stuff.
When the Pirates decided to move him into relief, Lincoln was coming off a very impressive start on Saturday night where he took a no-hit bit into the fifth inning. Overall, he allowed just two hits — the second was a solo-homer in the seventh which ended his outing — and struck out career-high seven.
After he was informed of the move, Lincoln was still his confident self, being a team guy and just wanting to help the club no matter what role it is.
“It’s a move they had to make,” Lincoln said. “They had to make room for [Jeff] Karstens. It’s just one of those things you accept it and you play with it. I want to stay in the starting rotation, but I also want to be in a position to help the team. They believe in me to have a role in the bullpen and come in, in certain situations. We’ll roll with it and see what happens.”
On Wednesday, Lincoln tossed a scoreless inning of relief against Philadelphia in his first relief appearance since June 1 and notched two strikeouts. The right-hander entered the game with no outs and runners on first and second with a one run lead, and put a foot down. Facing the heart of their lineup, Lincoln got Hunter Pence to chase on a 3-2 slider in the dirt to get the first strikeout. His next batter flew out to left before Jim Thome came in to pinch hit, but Lincoln went right after him. Thome whiffed swinging on just three pitches, the third a 95 mph fastball ended the inning.
On Friday, Lincoln was even more impressive.
Lincoln allowed just one hit over his three inning performance. The base knock came in his first inning of work in the sixth. The right-hander struck out two in the seventh inning. He got Jon Jay looking on curve, and Matt Holliday swinging on a 96 MPH heater.
“I feel that I can just go out there and attack guys with my fastball and put them away when I want to,” Lincoln said. “For me, it’s just go out there and pitch your game,and so far it’s been good for me this year.”
Lincoln came out for a third inning — after picking up a base hit in the top of the eighth — and struck out two more over a scoreless frame. Lincoln whiffed four straight over his three scoreless innings and threw just 32 pitches, 22 strikes. The right-hander has just an 0.37 ERA in relief with 29 strike outs and seven walks over 24.0 innings.
“I was definitely wearing down out there,” Lincoln said on if he could have pitched a fourth inning. “The humidity was wearing on me, but I probably could have went back out there and finished the game off.”
Manager Clint Hurdle said after the game that the plan is to keep Lincoln stretched out as much as possible. If needed for a spot start or to step in for any lengthy outings, the Pirates want to make sure Lincoln is sharp.
“We’re going to try and make sure we use him efficiently as far as when he pitches one night, we’re not going back-to-back with him for a while,” Hurdle said. “And once he gets out there and we have opportunities to stretch him out, we’re going to let him pitch. Why try and change too much with him? If he’s got the opportunity to be stretched out, we’re going to stretch him out. He had good stuff [Friday night]. Very firm with the fastball. Very sharp with the breaking ball, good command. They were all quick innings.”