With Charlie Morton on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, Brad Lincoln had the opportunity on Wednesday to make a spot start for Pittsburgh. Since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, the right-hander has been used primarily in the bullpen, where he’s thrived. Lincoln made one spot start for the Pirates three weeks ago, throwing six solid innings (just two earned runs) in the 3-2 win in Miami.
Lincoln has been very valuable to the Bucs this season in any role, including long relief, short relief, late innings. But his future with the organization is still blurred on which role they prefer for the former first-round pick: a possible future closer or late inning guy, or as a starter?
The 27-year-old has been charged with just three earned runs in 26.0 innings of work this season prior to game action. His 0.45 ERA (Just one earned run over 20.0 innings) as a relief pitcher ranked third among Major League relievers and second in the National League behind Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman, who has yet to allow an earned run over 28.0 innings.
Since his last spot start, Lincoln made six appearances in the bullpen. As a reliever, Lincoln embraced his bulldog type of mentality.
“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 than 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. If they keep me in that role, if they want me in as the late inning guy, long relief, it’s something I’ll roll with.”
Lincoln’s second spot start wasn’t as good as his first. After pitching a perfect first inning, Brandon Phillips took a first pitch fastball for a solo-homer to right center field to lead off the 2nd frame. The run snapped Lincoln’s 8.2 scoreless inning streak.
Lincoln followed that inning up with a strong third. He threw 12 pitches, getting two strikeouts in the inning including a caught looking on a fastball to Chris Heisey to end the frame.
Although he struggled with the command of his curveball, Lincoln looked good over his first three innings, but labored in the fourth. Nine batters came to the plate in the frame. Joey Votto led off with a single into center field. Phillips followed by hitting a pitch into the dirt that bounced to right, his second hit off Lincoln, to put runners on the corners and no outs.
Lincoln got Bruce to chase on a curveball for the second time in the game. After walking his next batter to load the bases, former Bucco Ryan Ludwick took a first pitch fastball down and away for a bases clearing double into the gap in left field. Ryan Hanigan connected for an RBI single to right field to plate the fourth run of the inning.
The righty was done after the rough fourth and overall allowed five runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out five while throwing 66 pitches, 39 for strikes. Lincoln entered game action with just a 1.04 ERA, which jumped to 2.40 after his outing. The 27-year-old had not allowed more than two runs (in his first spot start) in any of his 14 appearances prior.
Left-hander Doug Slaten followed Lincoln in relief and saved the bullpen by tossing three scoreless innings. He held the Reds to just one hit, and has yet to give up a run (four appearances, 5.2 innings) since joining the club on May 28th.
Cutch is Clutch
Reds righty Johnny Cueto has been very good against the Pirates in his career. He’s posted a 11-4 record and a 2.55 ERA, which included a complete game shutout on May 4 in Pittsburgh. And over his first seven frames, was dominant.
Alex Presley started the game with a lead off single off Cueto up the right side, but Cueto retired the next eight straight before Andrew McCutchen drew a one-out walk in the 4th inning. He scattered just one hit over his next three, before the Bucs were finally able to get on the board off Cueto in the 8th inning.
Back-to-back hits started the frame — Rod Barajas hit for extra bases and Pedro Alvarez had a pinch-hit single to snap his 0-for-18 skid. Cueto was able to retire his next two batters before Neil Walker hit an RBI single up the left side to break up the shutout.
All-Star Andrew McCutchen came up clutch for the Bucs to bring the game within one run. The center fielder took an 0-1 fastball to the opposite field for a three-run shot for his 10th long ball of the season. McCutchen is now one of three players in the Majors w/ at least 10 homers and 10 stolen bases this season. He joins the Brewers Ryan Braun and Marlins Hanley Ramirez.
The Pirates were unable to score off Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning, and fell, 5-4. They dropped to 3.0 games back in the National League Central.
Leroux Makes Rehab Start, Karstens Doesn’t
Right-hander Chris Leroux made his first rehab start for High-A Bradenton on Wednesday. He also made several appearances in relief in extended spring training in Florida. Leroux allowed one run on two hits over three innings. He walked one and struck out two. Leroux said he will make a second rehab start on Saturday, this time for Triple-A Indianapolis.
While Leroux made his rehab start, fellow right-hander Jeff Karstens did not. The 29-year-old was scheduled to start tonight for Triple-A, but was replaced by Rick VandenHurk. There was no word as to why Karstens was removed, but will apparently make the start on Thursday for Indy.