PITTSBURGH, PA — Brad Lincoln used his four days off between starts in order to focus on several things — fastball command, keeping his front side closed, and not allowing damage with two outs.
“Just don’t try to change anything,” Lincoln said. “Don’t try and be something that you’re not. Don’t try and recreate something out there on the mound that you’ve worked hard on in your bullpens and stuff like that. Just believe in your stuff and go right at them and see what happens. And I did that.”
Lincoln exited his fourth start of the season in Cleveland earlier than he wanted. After giving up four runs on nine hits over just 3.1 innings, the right-hander said in the clubhouse after the game that he needed to make some adjustments and focus more. He knew he was better than that. And so did the Pirates.
Fighting to keep a spot in the rotation, Lincoln was dominant on the mound against Detroit.
“If you put more pressure on yourself than you have to, then bad things are going to happen,” said Lincoln, who’s spot in the rotation on Thursday is listed as TBA. “I just try to go out there and play baseball and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future. Just go out there and be who I am, have fun and don’t worry about anything.”
“It’s just the matter of clearing your mind after the last start. Don’t think about it and just stick with it, grind it out and things will be better on your side.”
Hurdle said after his rough outing against the Indians that they were going to show the former first round pick patience. They gave him the opportunity for a fifth start this season.
Lincoln entered game action with a 10.45 ERA over his last three straight starts. He lasted a combined 11.2 innings and picked up two losses. Lincoln admitted that the adjustment period was a challenge. The 27-year-old started the season starting in Triple-A and was promoted to Pittsburgh after Jeff Karstens went on the disabled list. He made just one spot start before spending 20.0 innings in relief, posting an impressive 0.45 ERA and 23 strikeouts. But once Charlie Morton went on the DL, Lincoln was called upon for the challenge to prove that he has the stuff to be a Major League starter.
“He looked like the kid that threw the game in Miami,” Hurdle said. “He looked like the kid that had been pitching out of the bullpen. You hope always when you’ve got a guy that you think, and there’s people in here that think can be a starter, that you want to give him every opportunity to do that. There’s thoughts in our industry that it’s easier to put a bullpen together.”
“What you don’t want to do is keep moving the kid around and sometimes you’re in that situation where they bounce a little bit. We did want to give him this opportunity today to pitch at home.”
Just as they did with several players who struggled this season, Hurdle showed faith in Lincoln, and it paid off on Saturday afternoon.
“What happened out there?” Lincoln said with a smile. “It’s just one of those things, you’ve got to go out there and stick with your game plan. Don’t try to change anything. Don’t try and be a different pitcher…I was able to attack the zone, throw a lot of strikes and get guys out when I needed to.”
Lincoln took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning. Ramon Santiago shot a first pitch fastball into right field for the first hit of the game.
“Most times as a pitcher, you know what the situation is,” Lincoln said. “That deep in the game, yeah, you want to get deeper into the game and continue to hang onto that but you can’t let that bother you. You’ve got to go after the next guy and get out of that inning and give your chance to win a ballgame.”
He also notched a career-high seven strikeouts. The righty whiffed six twice in his Major League career. His last came on September 6 against Houston at PNC Park when he punched out six over a six inning performance. And what was even more impressive was the 21 straight strikes that Lincoln threw from the fourth inning until facing his leadoff batter, Miguel Cabrera, to start the seventh.
Lincoln cruised through his first six innings. He allowed just two base runners (a hit and a walk) until taking the mound in the seventh inning.
The second hit allowed by Lincoln was a 3-2 homer to Cabrera to lead off the frame. The long ball ended Lincoln’s outing as Hurdle called upon the bullpen to finish out the game. Lincoln walked off the mound into the dugout to a standing ovation from the sell- out crowd at PNC Park, and tipped his cap in acknowledgement.
“When I try to rear back and try to throw it, I seem to hit my spots better,” Lincoln said of his fastball, which was hitting 94 on the gun. “When I throw at 80 percent, for some reason I’m a little wild. Just go at guys and don’t have any fear. Don’t fear the results. The pitch to Cabrera, I wasn’t going to walk him. I was going to go right at him and he got the best of me…I felt good out there today.”
Overall, Lincoln tossed six-plus innings and allowed one run on two hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Lincoln threw 79 pitches, an impressive 60 for strikes. The win was the fourth for Lincoln this season and pushed the Pirates to a season-high six games over .500.
Cutch Homers and Offense Continues Tear at Home
The Tigers Max Scherzer allowed just a hit and a walk over his first three scoreless innings, until the Pirates were finally able to plate some runs off the right-hander.
Alex Presley led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a double to the gap in right-center field. It marked the first hit from the Buccos since Jose Tabata singled with one out in the first inning. Presley ripped the ninth pitch of the at-bat and aggressively stretched it into an extra base hit — his ninth double of the season.
After Tabata was hit in the left wrist by a pitch, Andrew McCutchen continued his impressive season by depositing an 0-2 pitch into the left field bleachers for a three-run no-doubt about it home run. It was his 13th long ball of the season, which tied Pedro Alvarez for the team-lead. The homer pushed his season batting average to a whopping .347.
“Just not trying to do too much, staying within myself,” McCutchen said. “Just swinging at pitches and hitting them. I’m making good contact and hitting them. Learning each at-bat, learning each game. Just trying to take it game by game.”
The Pirates tacked on a fourth run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Casey McGehee doubled into the gap for a pinch-hit knock, and scored on a RBI single from Neil Walker to left field.
“It’s what I expected,” McCutchen said of the hot offense in June. “Different guys are coming through. We’re getting on base, getting big hits. It’s what we’re doing right now. Hopefully we can continue it and keep the momentum going.”
With the win, the Pirates improve to 23-12 at home. Their 16-4 record at PNC Park since May 12 is the best in the Major Leagues.
“Everybody likes to play in front of their home crowd,” Hurdle said. “The fan base has grown. I think we’ve kind of rekindled a relationship from last season. We might have lost some of them late, but I do think there was some that hadn’t been out in a while come back out. The crowds have been noisy, they’ve been enthusiastic. That always helps.”
The key so far this season, Hurdle said, has been the pitching and defense they’ve produced. Their home ERA of 2.29 entering game action ranks first in the Majors.
“This park is built for pitching. It’s built for defense,” Hurdle said. “We’ve talked about creating a home field identity last season. It never caught on. We fought, clawed, scratched. This year we wanted to try and improve that. We’ve really believe with the strength off the mound, the added depth to the bullpen, the ability to play defense. Then you use our offense to fit this park, to know what this park plays like, how we need to combat it because this park, I’ve seen it from the other dugout, can cause some challenges to an opposing team.”
“It can frustrate right-handers right away if they drive balls to the notch and they’re not awarded for homers. And the left-handers get a little gleam in their eye when they look at the right field porch, the Clemente wall. We need to hit low liners. We need to fill up the gaps. We need to put the ball on the ground and run the bases aggressively. I think that’s helped create the identity we’ve been looking for. And the record is at least indicative of it at this point in time.”
Pirates Putting Runs Up Early and Often
The Pirates have been scoring runs first and early recently. This season when they score first, they’ve posted a 22-9 record and they’ve won four of their last five games when getting a run on the board first.
“You get them different ways,” Hurdle said. “You can get them through speed. Your leadoff hitters gets on and he steals a base, you execute and make some good outs and score a run. Somebody hits a homer quick. Last night, a double and a single. There’s a variety of ways. More often than not if you look at the numbers, the teams atop the offensive categories, they are the ones scoring the most offensive runs early in the game.”
“Basically it just comes down to good offensive teams having the opportunity to do that more often than not. It can take a while for some guys, but sometimes the pitchers have a little bit to say about [that]. If they come out sharp and they’re making pitches, it’s not quite as easy. It’s been a focus point for us. We weren’t doing very much of it early. We’ve done a lot of it late.”
Watson Dealing with Right-handers on the Bump
Tony Watson isn’t your typical left-handed reliever. He isn’t used just for left-on-left matchups. And in fact, Watson is actually shown to be more effective against right-handed bats. He’s held right-handers to just a .143 average this season.
In the Pirates win on Friday night, Watson was called upon to face Austin Jackson, who bats from the right side.
“I don’t just use him as a match up lefty,” Hurdle said. “There’s been a number of times we’ve sent him out to handle a right-hander…His bating average against right-handers is 100 points lower than left-handed hitters. We’ve used him left-on-left later on because I do believe there are some guys he best matches in that role. And last night, I felt the best match up for Austin Jackson at that time was Tony Watson. He’s been able to do some things that aren’t cookie cutter left-on-left.”
Watson stranded both his inherited runners last night and one on Saturday. His 34 inherited runners this season are the most in the Majors. Watson has posted just an 1.98 ERA in relief over his last 13.2 innings from the ‘pen.