Phillies still like Lincoln

Posted: March 07, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies were up by one run. There were two runners on and five outs separating them from a win over the Atlanta Braves.

Antonio Bastardo already had been in and out of the game and Mike Adams was unavailable, still working his way back from July shoulder surgery. Jake Diekman, possibly the most lethal arm in the 'pen, was being taken out after allowing two of the three batters he faced to reach base.

Ryne Sandberg called on righthander Brad Lincoln in the eighth inning of yesterday afternoon's game at Bright House Field.

Later, the sounds emanating through the stadium - or just a couple of particularly loud fans near the Tiki Bar behind the bullpen, really - would tell you how Lincoln handled the assignment.

"Are you kidding me?!" one unhinged fan screamed. "What the [bleep]?"

"You're a bum!" bellowed another.

Welcome to Philadelphia, Mr. Lincoln.

In his third outing of the spring, Lincoln walked back-to-back hitters in the eighth inning but managed to escape unscathed. In the ninth, he could not dance out of trouble.

Lincoln gave up a leadoff double to Jose Constanza and then threw a ball away later in the inning on a rundown play to allow the tying run to score. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, as only games in Grapefruit League play can.

"When you don't get ahead of hitters, it's never a good situation," Lincoln said. "I struggled with that today. I was able to make pitches when I needed to in the eighth and then screwed myself in the ninth. That's pretty much how it went."

One questionable outing is not going to bury Lincoln. The 28-year-old joined the Phillies in the December trade that sent catcher Erik Kratz to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Although jobs in the Phillies' bullpen are fairly wide-open after Bastardo, Diekman and closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lincoln is likely a favorite because he is out of options. If he does not make the Opening Day roster, Lincoln would have to clear waivers before being assigned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

But Lincoln also has a strong chance of finding a job in the 'pen because, unlike just about anyone expect Papelbon, Bastardo and Diekman, he has had extended success as a big-league reliever.

In the first half of the 2012 season, while with Pittsburgh, Lincoln was 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA in 23 relief appearances. He struck out 40 and walked eight in that 35 2/3-inning span, holding opponents to a .176 batting average and .519 OPS.

"I just got in one of those grooves, where you go out there and you pitch with a lot of confidence," Lincoln said. "And that just builds and builds. Even when I did have a bad outing, I could go out there the next day and believe in myself to get the job done."

That mindset should help Lincoln bounce back from yesterday; it's also the mindset that any major league reliever needs to have in order to keep a job.

Lincoln isn't sure what went wrong when he switched uniforms for the first time in his career, but after that successful first half as a reliever in Pittsburgh, he was traded to Toronto before the 2012 trade deadline and struggled to recapture that success.

In a 1 1/2 years with the Blue Jays, Lincoln went 2-2 with a 4.77 ERA in 46 games. Last season he made more appearances at Triple A Buffalo (23 games) than with the Jays (22 games).

"I never felt that comfort after I got traded," Lincoln said. "I don't know if it was because of the new surroundings, feeling you have to impress a whole different group or something like that. I don't know. It just hadn't worked out. But I'm looking forward to turning it around."

When Lincoln was traded for the second time in his career, he was on a hunting trip in Oil City, Pa., when Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos called.

"It was 11 p.m. at night on a Tuesday," Lincoln said. "When that happens in the offseason, you know something's going on."

Lincoln liked what he heard during his first conversation with Phillies officials. They told him they had liked him for some time. They still do.

"He shows his stuff - live fastball, a breaking pitch," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's working on really hitting his spots and making the quality pitch, and working to get ahead of the hitters."

Lincoln had success in his first two spring appearances: no runs, two hits, three strikeouts and no walks in two innings. He struggled yesterday.

But any bad games he has to endure this spring in his quest to win a bullpen job won't be the biggest hurdle Lincoln has ever had to clear. Eight years ago, the Pirates used the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft to select Lincoln out of the University of Houston. Three of the next seven picks in the first round, chosen after Lincoln: Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer.

"I try not to put any more pressure on myself than I already have," Lincoln said. "Having that [status] of being a first-round pick, I don't look too much in it. Now I'm here, a regular guy. I'm not up here on top of the pedestal. I'm here with everyone else, and I try to look at it that way and go about my business. I try to get in the paper in a good way, not in a bad way."

Making the Opening Day roster would be a good start.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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