After disappointing season, Lincoln changes tactics on mound
BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates will keep it simple this year with right-hander Brad Lincoln.
"It's, 'Here's the ball, go get 'em,' " pitching coach Ray Searage said. "Mechanically, he's back to where he was, and we're not going to fool around with him."
In nine starts over two months last season, Lincoln went from finely tuned to train wreck. Constant tweaks in mechanics from the Pirates' former staff resulted in a shattered confidence.
The low point was July 20 against Milwaukee, when Lincoln failed to get the win despite having a 9-0 lead in the second inning. He was lifted after allowing seven runs and getting only seven outs.
Lincoln was sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis in an attempt to regain his form. By the time Lincoln was recalled in September, former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan had been fired and replaced by Searage.
"It was a slow process," Lincoln said. "It wasn't going to change overnight just because I went back down to Triple-A. I think a lot of people thought, 'He's getting away from ... whomever, so it will automatically be the same as it was before.' But it took several weeks for me to get back to where I was."
Lincoln spent the final weeks of the season in the Pirates' bullpen and made just two outings. In his final appearance, he struck out the three batters he faced.
This spring Lincoln, who is scheduled to pitch two innings today against the Toronto Blue Jays, is a fringe player in the competition for the lone open spot in the starting rotation. Either Charlie Morton or Scott Olsen is expected to get the job, and Lincoln likely is ticketed for Indianapolis again.
The best way for Lincoln to earn a steady big-league job would be to develop an effective changeup.
"That's going to be a big key for me, if I want to be a starter at this level," Lincoln said. "I've got to have a third pitch."
Lincoln has thrown the changeup occasionally during his career but never with consistency. He thinks he hasn't thrown the pitch enough to get comfortable with it.
Lincoln's aggressive style has Searage training him to throw a split-fingered changeup, which requires a different grip than the traditional circle change.
The right-hander's split-change tumbles forward and dives as it approaches the plate; the circle change has more of a side-to-side, "wipeout" movement.
"It has the action and deception to be a solid, if not above average, major league pitch," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He just needs to throw it with conviction, be comfortable with it and realize it's OK if he gets beat on it occasionally."
Much like the change Lincoln threw to the Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria in the Pirates' Grapefruit League opener five days ago. Lincoln threw a handful of good changes, then hung one to Longoria, who sent to ball high and far over the center field wall.
Instead of crumbling, Lincoln attacked the next two batters, Manny Ramirez and Ben Zobrist, and induced fly-ball outs.
"I'm very relaxed out there now," Lincoln said. "I feel my stuff is good enough to work at this level. To use it, be successful with it and get that confidence built up is something that's a big key for me."
Brad Lincoln's 2010 stats:
Triple-A: 7-5, 4.12 ERA; 17 games, 17 starts, 94.0 innings pitched, 83 hits, 47 runs, 43 earned runs, 24 walks, 84 strikeouts
Pirates: 1-4, 6.67 ERA; 11 games, 9 starts, 52.2 innings pitched, 66 hits, 42 runs, 39 earned runs, 15 walks, 25 strikeouts
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