Lincoln cracks Pirates rotation

            No sooner do I call out a crop of pitchers from the 2006 draft class for being epic busts, does one of them emerge with the most prolific start of his big-league career.

            While I didn’t call most of them out by name in contrasting the group with the emergence of Toronto ace Brandon Morrow, the “epic busts,” as it were, would be: Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, Andrew Miller, and Brad Lincoln. The final entry on the list may need to be reconsidered.

            Lincoln dazzled Monday night in his first start of the year for Pittsburgh. The right-hander went six innings strong, allowing two runs on four hits, while walking one and striking out three. The Pirates went on to eek past Miami 3-2, with Lincoln improving his record to 3-0.

            Entering the season, Lincoln had posted a 3-7 career record in parts of two seasons as a starter, with a +5.00 ERA to boot. In his defense, after being selected as the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Lincoln was plagued by injuries, including an injury to his pitching elbow which required Tommy John surgery at the outset of the 2007 season.

            If Lincoln can keep it going, the Pirates may soon become a team to watch. That sounds strange to say, as the Pirates have endured one of the longest losing traditions in the history of professional sports, having finished with a sub-.500 record for an abysmal 19 consecutive seasons.

            That’s right, it’s been since Barry Bonds’ final season in Pittsburgh that the franchise has seen a winning season. (Hence, the reason Pittsburgh was the one city I never resented when the boo birds would come out to greet Bonds.) 

            The reason Pirates fans have reason to at long last be optimistic, however, is Lincoln isn’t the only pitcher on the uptick.

            Right-hander James McDonald seems to finally be fulfilling his potential at the age of 27, riding a wave of four consecutive quality starts to lead the staff with a 2.44 ERA. And, left-hander Erik Bedard at long last is returning to the form that made him a Cy Young contender in 2007. Although he encountered a setback on May 9 when he was removed early due to back stiffness from his start against Washington, he otherwise has been outstanding, notching a 2.57 ERA over 35 innings while striking out 37 this season.

            Meanwhile, the Pirates boast one of the best one-two starting pitching punches in all the minor leagues, with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon both dominating the Florida State League at High-A Bradenton. Taillon, the second-overall pick in the 2010 draft, is currently 2-2 with a 1.47 ERA. Cole, the first-overall pick in the 2011 draft, is settling in after a shaky start, currently sporting a 2-1 record with a 3.18 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .193 batting average.

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