The Pirates understand the current value of starting pitching, which is part of the reason they sent Brad Lincoln to the mound Saturday afternoon. And Lincoln returned full value with one of his best outings of the season.
After three consecutive poor starts, Lincoln (4-2) pitched effectively and efficiently, working into the seventh inning and allowing only one run and two hits. He threw strikes and got swings and misses as the Pirates won their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
With Lincoln's performance and backing from Andrew McCutchen's three-run homer, the Pirates beat the Detroit Tigers, 4-1, in front of a sellout crowd of 38,734 at PNC Park.
Manager Clint Hurdle has said the Pirates wanted to give Lincoln multiple chances as a starter. "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."
Lincoln's only blip the first time through the order was a walk to Alex Avila. He struck out four in the first three innings, including two in the second, and one each in the third, fourth and fifth. He finished with seven strikeouts, surpassing his previous career high of six.
"Fastball command was above average, the breaking ball was in play for strikes as well as swings and misses," Hurdle said. "He looked like the kid that threw the game in Miami, he looked like the kid that had been pitching out of the bullpen."
Lincoln's most recent solid start came May 14 on the road against the Marlins, when he threw six innings of two-run ball. He also has a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings as a reliever this season.
Hurdle also wanted to give Lincoln a chance to pitch at home, where the Pirates had a major league-best 2.29 team ERA entering Saturday's game.
Lincoln did not allow a hit until the sixth inning, when Ramon Santiago led off with a single. Between a first-pitch ball to Prince Fielder in the fourth and an 0-2 ball to Miguel Cabrera in the seventh, Lincoln threw 21 consecutive strikes.
Unfortunately, Cabrera ended that at-bat by lining a 3-2 fastball into the right-center field seats for his 15th home run of the season and ending Lincoln's outing. The home run cut the score to 3-1, and Hurdle went to the bullpen to preserve the lead.
After Juan Cruz and Tony Watson got through the seventh, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan again teamed up for the eighth and ninth, and Hanrahan earned his 19th save.
The outing marked a sharp departure from Lincoln's past three starts, where he did not get out of the fifth and allowed at least four runs in each. His breaking ball worked well for him against the Tigers.
"I feel that that pitch has worked for me in the past and just being able to find it, once you throw it a couple times and have a feel for it, you tend to get a little bit more aggressive," Lincoln said. "I was able to do that today. I got in counts where I could put guys away and make it a little bit more nasty than what it has been."
Tigers starter Max Scherzer (6-5) matched Lincoln through the first three innings. But he was the first to crack. Alex Presley hit a line drive to right-center in the fourth that Austin Jackson had to run down in the gap. Presley sped to second for a double ahead of Jackson's off-line throw.
Jose Tabata squared to bunt, but took a pitch off his right wrist, putting two men on for McCutchen, who blasted his 13th homer of the year, a high shot to left field, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
"[Left fielder Delmon Young] was either going to make a play on the wall or it was going to be gone," said Presley, who watched the homer from the bases. "It was a big swing in the game for us."
Casey McGehee hit a pinch-hit double in the seventh and scored on Neil Walker's single, pushing the lead to 4-1.
After Lincoln's outing, that would do.
Game: Pirates vs. Detroit Tigers, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Probables: RHP Justin Verlander (7-4, 2.57) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.12).
Key matchup: The Pirates vs. the hit column: Verlander almost no-hit them May 18 in Detroit.
Hidden stat: As of Saturday, Verlander led all major league pitchers with 1082/3 innings pitched.pirates
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 24, 2012 5:15 AM