As Travis Snider gets set to put on a No. 23 Pirates jersey tonight and start in right field for Pittsburgh, the focus should shift to the right-hander coming to Toronto in Brad Lincoln, an acquisition more appealing than one might initially think.
Mat already did a great job breaking down the trade this morning, touching on Lincoln and summarizing Snider’s struggles with the Blue Jays, but there’s much more to the 27-year-old reliever.
After opening the 2012 season as a starter for Triple-A Indianapolis, Lincoln was called up to the Pirates in mid-April to pitch as a reliever, a role he briefly held in August last season.
This year, however, something is different about Lincoln. He managed a sparkling 1.04 ERA in his first 26 innings (including one spot start), and not only was he limiting opposing hitters to a .174 clip, but he was averaging one strikeout per inning, thanks in part to a spike in fastball velocity.
He shifted back to the Pirates’ rotation in June, where he was shelled in three of his four spot starts before being relegated back to the bullpen. Since then, he has a 0.57 ERA in 10 appearances (15 2/3 innings) to go along with an impressive 17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kristy Robinson, Pirates beat reporter for PiratesProspects.com, had recently caught up with Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle to talk about Lincoln’s flip-flopping between roles this season, and she was generous enough to pass along the quotes that were to be used in her feature story.
“Brad has showed us a skill set that’s very unique this season,” Hurdle told Robinson. “We’ve challenged him, and he’s had to work through some challenges.
“Guys that have been hurt and have spent time in the minor leagues and finally get back to the big leagues, they embrace it. There’s the other side of it. I’ve had some guys that, ‘well, this isn’t really what I want to do.’ Brad’s been open minded. He wants to be in the big leagues, and he wants to do what’s best for this team right now. That makes it easy.”
In addition to talking with Hurdle, Robinson chatted with Lincoln himself about his versatility and new found confidence — the latter being a key reason for his success this season.
“It’s always good to have that in your back pocket, to be versatile and be that guy that they can call upon to pretty much be put in any situation,” the 27-year-old told Pirates Prospects. “I felt that I’ve done a pretty decent job at it. I’ve had a few rough starts. But just to be able to go out there and give them a little relief and let some guys arms rest or whatever, I feel that I can be that guy whenever they need it.”
Even though he’s pitched in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever, it’s clear that Lincoln has found his niche coming out of the bullpen. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity has increased to from 91.8 mph to over 93 this season, and the pitch can regularly touch 96. Add that to his out pitch, a sharp, low-80s curveball, and Lincoln’s main two-offering mix plays well in a relief role.
“It’s one of those things where you give it all you got for a couple innings,” Lincoln said of relieving. “I feel like I’ve come to be in a comfort zone out there and that I can do that. I have a go-to pitch if I need a strikeout or get early contact, get quick outs, quick innings. I try and make it where you don’t have to use anybody out of the ‘pen. You try to get through those two, three innings, eat them up and then get the ball to Joel [Hanrahan] for the ninth.”
Speaking of the ninth inning, Lincoln also talked with Robinson about the role a closer plays and the mentality that comes with it. Though Casey Janssen has done a great job closing games for the Blue Jays this season and won’t be going anywhere any time soon, having a bulldog on the mound like Lincoln in late innings is something that should not be overlooked.
“Just to be able to close out games is something the fans get into,” the right-hander said. “When you get down to that last out and you get into it, you feel the energy and stuff like that. It gives you that extra adrenaline flow that you need to get to get you through the game. It’s fun. I can see myself being put in those situations.”
After being traded for a fan favorite in Snider, it appears that Lincoln will have his work cut out for him popularity-wise.
But if he continues to pitch like he has for the Pirates this season, he’ll become a popular option to help close out wins for his new team, and that’s all that matters.
Many thanks to Kristy for supplying the quotes and extra information on one of the newer Blue Jays, and to keep up with Snider and the rest of the Pirates, make sure to follow her on Twitter: @Kristy_Robinson.