PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Right-hander Brad Lincoln has looked dramatically different on the bump in 2012 then the version Pittsburgh saw last season. Lincoln made 12 appearances (eight starts) with the Pirates in 2011, where he bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. Although Lincoln has been used primarily in relief (one spot start), he has been dominant for Pittsburgh so far.
Something changed for the 27-year-old while making a start in Los Angeles in one of his final outings to end the 2011 season. Lincoln was removed from the game after tossing just 1.2 innings, and being charged with six runs on eight hits. That learning experience has had a positive effect on the right-hander, who knew he was better than his line indicated.
“I just kind of put a foot down,” Lincoln said. “It’s now or never because I’m at the point in my career where either I’ve got to start producing, or things are going to start changing. Just going out there and leaving it all out on the field. Don’t let anything back. Just go right at guys. Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s what I tell myself every time I’m out there — don’t be afraid to fail and good things will happen.”
“Obviously you don’t want to go out there and pitch like that, put your team in a situation. That was just a bad game, whatever. We all have them. It was something to learn upon after something like that happens. So far so good. Nothing like that has happened again. I’m going to have a rough patch here and there. You’ve just got to learn from it and be able to get back up and keep going.”
Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said the biggest difference in Lincoln has been his confidence on the mound.
“I do think the sense of urgency after getting a taste of it last year,” Hurdle said, “And having really zero success out of the bullpen last year. Then getting into the starting rotation and having some success. Then having just maybe enough success to think, ‘You know what? I got a handle on this’, and then go into LA and getting it handed to him late in the season.”
“I think the doses of humility, the doses of the good stuff, have all put him in a good place this winter.”
For the past two springs, Lincoln had a chance to break camp with the Pirates. But both times an injury forced him to start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. This past spring training, the Bucs were looking at him to break as a long reliever in the ‘pen, but a calf injury sustained early hindered his chances.
“I felt bad for him getting tweaked and injury again this spring because he was right in the mix of things to possible break out with us,” Hurdle said. “That’s two springs in a row where he got dinged up and missed time, which I think really affected him breaking with the club.”
“To his credit, this is a tough kid. He’s mentally tough. He’s not going to be out worked. And he went down and he got his pitches in the best place that I’ve ever seen them. It was more evident the first day back against Arizona. He had three-plus pitches. The fastball velocity has remained consistent. The breaking ball, he’s throwing it for strikes, he’s throwing it for chase. And the changeup, which hasn’t been in play much probably as of late but is still a viable pitch. And the fact that he’s really simplified things in his own mind. He’s going to let it fly. He’s going to let it eat and see where it takes him.”
Despite not given the chance to prove he belongs in the Majors to start, Lincoln has been thriving in any role that the club has called upon him to do since his recall on April 18. From the ‘pen, Lincoln has a bulldog mentality on the mound, and he has been one of the best relievers in the National League this year. Lincoln’s 0.49 ERA as a relief pitcher ranks third among Major League relievers and second in the National League trailing only lefty Aroldis Chapman (26.0 scoreless innings).
Lincoln has allowed just one earned run over his 18.1 innings in relief and he’s retired 12 of his last batters he’s faced overall. That last run allowed in relief came on April 29 — 11.1 innings have been tossed scoreless since then.
“I don’t have to be conservative out there and try to work deep into the ballgame,” Lincoln said. “It’s more go right at guys. Go more for strikeouts then being efficient. That’s the way I’ve kind of came accustomed to it. I’m liking it so far so we’ll see what happens.”
With Juan Cruz currently on the restricted list, Lincoln could see some time towards the backend of the Bucco bullpen in some high-leverage situations. If given the opportunity, Lincoln will face it head on — not holding anything back.
“They’ve let me know they want to start using me at the back end,” Lincoln said. “To be that guy that is put in a big situation to get a big out, or pitch the inning to get the ball to Joel [Hanrahan], that’s something I look forward to.”