Collier: Is Lincoln Pirates' best option?
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BALTIMORE -- A stinging, spraying all-day rain had just cleared the eastern edges of the city limits in time for the start of this World Series preview series, leaving the relative humidity hovering at roughly, oh, 400 percent.
The chances that anyone with a big stick in his hands could drive a baseball through that soup in any damaging fashion were very low, at least until everyone got a look at some of the stuff Brad Lincoln was slopping up there.
Two of the nine hits Lincoln allowed in 41/3 ultra-tedious uphill innings went over the left-field fence at Camden Yards, as the Orioles grabbed the first of three from the first-place Pirates Tuesday night.
Yet nothing about Tuesday night could puncture the tangible if still modest sense of euphoria surrounding these two franchises, now sustaining a combined 33 consecutive seasons of losing baseball. Seems like just 30 or 40 years ago they staged epic seven-game World Series twice in the same decade, which is mostly because it was 30 or 40 years ago.
The 2012 Pirates arrived at the Inner Harbor in a mid-June tie for first place in the somewhat-squishy National League Central, and the Orioles, after a generally superb spring, found themselves just a game out of first in the powerful American League East as the long summer looms.
The romantic notion of these Bucs and these Birds sharing a week or more in October remains 90 percent wistful nostalgia, but it's a fun story line for the moment, particularly, it seems, for Baltimore hitters salivating at 2-0 pitches from Lincoln.
Baseball consumers hear often of the get-me-over curveball, the one pitchers throw when they need a strike and a moment to look back through the tool box for a better idea. But no, that wasn't a get-me-over curveball Lincoln threw to Mark Reynolds with a runner on and two outs in the Orioles second.
That was a get-me-hammered curveball.
Reynolds had no choice but to oblige, riding Lincoln's belly-high inside hanger to the seats in farthest left center, the first indication that this might not be the pitching staff's best night, and the second indicator came three innings later when gifted center fielder Adam Jones sent a 2-0 fastball cascading past the foul pole for his 18th homer and a 4-1 Baltimore lead.
Clint Hurdle had seen enough at that point, and might now ponder the larger question of whether he has seen enough of Lincoln as a starter for the foreseeable future. Two weeks ago, I thought Lincoln's pitches were as nasty as anyone on this staff except for James McDonald's, but in his most recent start starts he's shown nothing terribly mystifying.
"We've got him scheduled to pitch the last game in Cleveland [Sunday]," Hurdle said minutes after Baltimore's 8-6 victory. "But he's got to pitch better."
What's more, the empirical evidence has begun to pile up against future starting assignments:
Out of the bullpen, Lincoln's ERA is 0.45. Otherwise, it's 6.91. In 20 career starts since debuting against the Washington Nationals two years ago this week, he's 4-9 with a 5.72 ERA.
"He pitched himself into some bad locations," Hurdle said. "Overall, the command on his breaking ball is good and his fastball just didn't have the finish on it that we've seen."
Lincoln absorbed some bursts of bad luck as well, such as in the moment when he broke Jones' bat in the third, only to have the resultant flare to center fall for an RBI single, and it wasn't as if no one else in a black and gold blouse wasn't serving up some delectable pitches -- Baltimore had 15 hits.
But if the Pirates are an organization that is pitching strong, a truth that's long become self-evident, there's no reason to start mixing bad starts into this underpowered Pirates engine. (The players batting fourth and fifth for Baltimore Tuesday night have 27 homers, as compared to two for the Pirates in those slots.) Hurdle has options, and so what if one of them involves starting the major league clock of Rudy C. Owens, currently flashing a 2.29 ERA at Indianapolis, where he has worked at least six innings in every one of his 10 starts.
For all that Hurdle's starters have done for him, they've yet to enable a five-game winning streak. Tuesday night's performance shut down the second four-gamer of the year. Even with last summer's viral stretch of first-place fever, there hasn't been a five-game winning streak around here since September of 2010.
First Published June 13, 2012 11:37 am