PITTSBURGH -- When Brad Lincoln becomes the first Pirates pitcher to toe the rubber at new Marlins Park on Monday night -- he's stepping in for Erik Bedard, delayed by back spasms, in the opener of a two-game series -- he'll be making his first start since early April. Lincoln has excelled in a long-relief role after beginning the year in the rotation for Triple-A Indianapolis. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle does not know how long Lincoln will be able to pitch, but wants to see him do it with the same mentality. "He's been the best we've ever seen him," Hurdle said of the righty, whose ERA (0.63) in seven appearances is third lowest among National League relievers. "Most consistent, sharpest stuff -- I've just encouraged him to go as hard as he can as long as he can. We want him to keep pitching like he has been -- going out there with the mindset of just letting it go -- without giving him a [pitch-count] number."
Lincoln has twice put in three-inning relief stints, picking up victories both times the Pittsburgh starter was kayoed by injury after one inning -- on April 18, when Jeff Karstens left with shoulder inflammation, and Bedard's May 9 start against the Nationals. In that latter appearance, Lincoln hit his season-high of 44 pitches. "He's a strong kid. We won't put him in a box," said Hurdle, admitting he and pitching coach Ray Searage will "start paying attention once he gets north of 60 [pitches]." Lincoln made 17 starts for the Bucs the previous two seasons, going six-plus innings in 12 of them.