Pirates Notebook: Lincoln has major elbow surgery

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HOUSTON -- Another top pitching prospect has gone under the knife.

Brad Lincoln, the Pirates' first-round draft pick last summer, yesterday had reconstructive surgery to repair ligament damage in his right elbow -- commonly described as Tommy John surgery -- and will be unable to take the mound for 10-12 months. The surgery was performed by the noted orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews, in Birmingham, Ala.

General manager Dave Littlefield said Lincoln is expected to pitch in 2008.

"We feel very badly for Brad," Littlefield said. "He's a very motivated athlete, and he's disappointed."

The development extended a remarkable -- and regrettable -- run for the Pirates. In the past decade, six of the seven pitchers they have drafted in the first round -- Lincoln, Clint Johnston, Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington -- have needed major arm surgeries. The only exception is Paul Maholm, class of 2003.

In stark contrast, the system's top two prospects by a wide margin are position players, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Neil Walker.

Littlefield was asked if the Pirates might, as some teams have, begin to steer clear of pitchers with their first pick. And he allowed, for the first time, that they would consider it.

"It's something, like all things, that you want to look at as things happen," he said.

But he made clear his stance that the issue is not unique to the Pirates.

"I'm accountable for what happens in the Pirates' organization," Littlefield said. "But I also know that this is an industry-wide problem."

Lincoln, 21, barely pitched in the Pirates' system.

He logged 127 2/3 innings for the University of Houston last season before being drafted -- a high total that turned off some scouts and might have caused him to drop to fourth overall -- then made two starts for Bradenton in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and four more for Class A Hickory before a strained left oblique ended his season in August.

He pitched briefly in the Florida Instructional League in October, where he first informed the team of elbow pain, Littlefield disclosed yesterday.

Upon arrival at spring training, Lincoln was shut down immediately upon telling the team's medical staff of lingering elbow pain. He threw a bullpen session last week -- all fastballs -- then complained in the days that followed of more pain.

Kolb, Matos to report

Reliever Dan Kolb and outfielder Luis Matos have informed the Pirates they intend to report to Class AAA Indianapolis today in preparation for that team's opener tomorrow.

Kolb and Matos each was cut late in spring training, then tried -- and failed -- to hook up with another team.

The Pirates remain in touch with utilityman Jose Hernandez, who is in the same position.

Gorzelanny 'excited'

Tom Gorzelanny left Florida as maybe more of a question mark than anyone on the roster, having gone 0-2 with a 7.96 ERA in seven Grapefruit League games. Most alarming: 15 walks in 26 innings.

Tonight, he will make his season debut in the series finale against Houston.

"That's all gone," Gorzelanny said of the spring. "When they turn those lights on, this is a whole different ballgame. There's a whole different feel, the thrill of the competition, the feeling that you're out there working to get your team a win. I'm excited. I can't wait, actually."

Gorzelanny finished the spring strong, striking out eight Minnesota batters in six innings Saturday in Bradenton, Fla. Although the Twins used few regulars, Gorzelanny's velocity and command were crisp.

"It kind of wiped away the whole spring for me, to be honest."

Grabow out another week

Reliever John Grabow will not come off the disabled list when eligible Saturday.

After pitching to minor-leaguers in a simulated game today in Bradenton, he will join the team in Cincinnati over the weekend for a day or two of work with the athletic trainers. He then will report to Class AAA Indianapolis for a rehabilitation assignment.

That makes it seem unlikely he could rejoin the Pirates before late next week.

Buried treasure

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez will join Indianapolis today and play tomorrow. Littlefield did not rule out that he could rejoin the Pirates in Cincinnati.

By starting 1-0, the Pirates were above .500 for the first time since May 29, 2004, when they were 23-22.

The large headline atop the Houston Chronicle sports section yesterday, reflecting the public disdain for closer Brad Lidge's blown save Monday: "Opener! Closer?"



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