Olsen, Morton likely to compete for No. 5 role
Bucs like Lincoln, but he may open '11 season at Triple-A
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com | 01/28/11 5:27 PM EST

PITTSBURGH -- For all the talk about candidates for the fifth spot in the Pirates' rotation, the job appears to be narrowing into a battle between Scott Olsen and Charlie Morton. And that leaves Brad Lincoln facing the likelihood of starting the season back in Triple-A.

While the Bucs are still plenty enthused about Lincoln's long-term potential, general manager Neal Huntington said on Friday that he doesn't expect Lincoln to be back to form quick enough to make a push for the Opening Day rotation.

"He, honestly, is probably on the outside looking in right now," Huntington said. "We've got to get him back to where he was prior to his callup last year. We fully believe we can do that, and we're excited to be able to do that with him, but it's unlikely that it's going to happen in Spring Training."

Moskos on young Pirates team
1/26/11: Pirates pitching prospect Daniel Moskos likes his team's young core
interview, Pittsburgh Pirates, Daniel Moskos

Lincoln arrived in the Majors last June, amid plenty of hype about his potential. That hype dissolved fairly quickly as Lincoln struggled to find his footing and adjust to mechanical changes that were forced upon him. After nine starts with Pittsburgh, Lincoln was back in Triple-A, trying to undo the damage to his mechanics and confidence.

He rejoined the team for the final month of the season and made two appearances in relief. The last one -- a scoreless inning against the Marlins -- was especially encouraging. But with all that happened in between, the Pirates are cautious about pushing Lincoln back into a big league rotation too soon.

So what will it take before Lincoln can make a strong case for a rotation spot again?
Continued development of his changeup pitch is key, Huntington said. And then the Pirates must ensure that Lincoln's mechanics are back on track. There wasn't particular emphasis on either of these things this winter, which means the club anticipates Lincoln needing more than just Spring Training to get everything in line for his next Major League chance.

"He knows what he needs to accomplish and because the focus wasn't Feb. 15, we didn't feel the need to force him into things," Huntington said. "We needed to give him time to get away. We need to give him time to work to get his body in top shape. We needed some time to build the arm strength. Now this spring is when we can attack the other issues."

As for the competition between Olsen and Morton, there is a scenario in which both players could make the Opening Day roster. One would do so as a starter, with the other slotting into a relief role. Huntington confirmed that the Pirates will strongly consider such a possibility.

The club doesn't have a lot of flexibility with Olsen or Morton, since both are out of options. By keeping the pitcher who doesn't join the rotation in the bullpen, the Bucs wouldn't risk losing him on waivers. And with a handful of vacancies in the bullpen, there could be a need for Morton or Olsen to slot into an open spot there.

Such a scenario depends on two things holding true. First, Morton and Olsen have to perform well enough this spring to give the Pirates confidence that both are ready to contribute at the big league level. Second, the other four projected starters -- Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Paul Maholm -- must solidify their spots.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.