"I feel like I'm ready to take that next step," Lincoln said. "I've been in the majors, I've had my bumps, and I'm stronger for it. I'm going into spring training with the goal of winning a job."
Lincoln, the 26-year-old 2006 first-round draft pick derailed by Tommy John surgery, spent most of last season with Class AAA Indianapolis and went 7-8 with a 4.19 ERA, but he also made eight starts in Pittsburgh and went 2-3 with a 4.72 ERA.
None of those numbers jumps out, obviously, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle liked some of what he saw in spurts and, because of that, has endorsed keeping Lincoln in the mix.
"I've challenged Brad," Hurdle said. "Let's see it."
Lincoln sounds as if he welcomes it.
"I've always loved things like that to help motivate me," he said. "My mindset going into the spring is that I'm there to make the rotation. I'm not looking around. I'm just going to pitch."
The rotation, as composed now, will be Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton and recently signed Erik Bedard. But Morton is uncertain to start the season because of hip surgery, and that could open a spot right there.
Others with a chance are left-handers Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens. Locke pitched in Pittsburgh for the final month last season and had a 6.48 ERA in four starts. Owens disappointed management last spring after having a similar opportunity but not reporting with full arm strength.
--RHP Jeff Karstens, the Pirates' most pleasant surprise in 2011, said he's spent his offseason working to get stronger. Durability has been an issue throughout his career, in part because of his wiry frame. He won't be able to add much bulk, so strength and agility are the focus.
--1B Derrek Lee remains available on the open market, but there has been no indication he will return to Pittsburgh despite a hard push from the Pirates. That included manager Clint Hurdle maintaining regular contact to try to sell him.
--CF Starling Marte, one of the Pirates' top prospects, returned to Dominican Winter League action from missing a month to a groin injury in early December and batted .310 in his first 10 games.
--1B Jeff Clement, a 28-year-old trying to bounce back from missing all of 2011 with a knee injury, signed a minor league contract to return to the Pirates' system. Given the dearth at the position, no one should be ruled out.
--INF Anderson Hernandez signed a minor league contract with a spring invitation and will have at least an outside shot at utility work. Hernandez, 29, has appeared in 240 major league games but spent all of last season with Houston's Class AAA affiliate, where he batted .300.
BY THE NUMBERS: 18 -- Victories in the final 59 games for the Pirates in 2011, a freefall that "we all can learn from," second baseman Neil Walker said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We showed ourselves that we can do some very good things for about four months. Now we have to do it for six." -- GM Neal Huntington on the Pirates' fall from first place in 2011, a slump that began in late July.