Lincoln’s inaugural victory

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CHICAGO — Manager John Russell figured it was just a matter of time before Brad Lincoln busted loose.

“He’s been building to this,” Russell said Wednesday, after Lincoln blanked the Cubs for seven innings in a 2-0 victory, the first of the right-hander’s career.

“It gets that monkey off my back,” Lincoln said. “Now I can just go out there, relax and be who I am. I don’t have to worry about anything that goes on around me.”

Lincoln has made five starts. The last three have been quality starts, which has lowered his ERA nearly three points to 4.65.

“He’s gotten a lot more comfortable,” Russell said. “He’s starting to trust what he can do. He’s gotten into that good rhythm now where he believes in what he’s doing.”

• Garrett Jones collected his team-leading eighth game-winning RBI — one more than he had last season.

In the eighth inning, Jones drove a fastball from Andrew Cashner to center field for a double. Andy LaRoche, who’d reached on an error, scored.

“(Cashner) throws hard,” Jones said. “I just wanted to be on time and not miss it. It was down and a little bit away, but I got the good part of the bat on it.”

It’s the kind of hit that has eluded the Pirates for most of June, when they went 6-20.

“We’ve been waiting on that big hit,” Russell said. “Today, Garrett came up with it.”

• The Pirates took two of three against the Cubs — just their third winning series out of 13 on the road this season. The Pirates are 9-3 against Chicago with three more games still to play.

“They haven’t been swinging the bats like they’re capable, but we’ll take it,” Russell said. “We’ve played some other teams tough and have not found a way to win. We’ve found a way against these guys. Hopefully, that will continue.”

• I’ve gotta admit, it’s kind of fun to sit here in the Wrigley Field press box and listen to a radio guy in the back row tell his audience that the big-payroll Cubs will be sellers at the trade deadline and that “anybody could go.” Geez, isn’t that line usually attached to the Pirates this time of year? A refreshing change, maybe.

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Crosby rebounds from injury

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CHICAGO — Bobby Crosby, who was injured Monday in a collision with Lastings Milledge, will hit off a tee today and probably could pinch-hit if the Pirates are really in a jam during this afternoon’s game against the Cubs. He is expected to be back full speed tomorrow. Crosby did not take any swings yesterday.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (26-51) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Andy LaRoche 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Lastings Milledge rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss. 9. Brad Lincoln (0-2, 6.00) rhp

Cubs (34-43) — 1. Kosuke Fukudome rf, 2. Mike Fontenot 2b, 3. Marlon Byrd cf, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 6. Alfonso Sorriano lf, 7. Koyie Hill c, 8. Starlin Castro ss, 9. Tom Gorzelanny (2-5, 3.41) lhp

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LaRoche starts at second base

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CHICAGO — Starting tonight at second base for your Pittsburgh Pirates … Andy LaRoche?

Indeed. The Pirates are low on infielders — Neil Walker is nursing a concussion back in Pittsburgh and Bobby Crosby in not available to play tonight — after a pair of on-field collisions with outfielders. The Cubs are starting lefty Ted Lilly tonight, so manager John Russell did not want to put Delwyn Young at second base.

“Is (LaRoche) 100 percent ready? He’s close,” Russell said.

Close enough, it seems.

“I’m excited,” LaRoche said. “I played a little bit of second base with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, and I (played second) in one game in the big leagues. I played second all through high school, too.”

LaRoche has been doing a lot of early work at second base and also has fielded grounders there during batting practice.

“I’m starting to feel comfortable,” he said. “The only thing I’m kind of concerned about is knowing where to go on cutoffs and stuff like that.”

»»» Walker was examined today by a specialist, but the Pirates have not revealed any specifics about what might have been discovered. Russell said the next two or three days will determine whether or not Walker will go on the disabled list.

Walker still is experiencing concussion symptoms. Until those go away, he cannot be cleared to resume baseball activities.

»»» Crosby, who on Monday collided with right fielder Lastings Milledge, might be able to return to action Wednesday. Crosby was woken up every couple of hours last night as a precaution against a concussion, but has not had either a CT or MRI exam.

»»» Zach Duke is making good progress in his recovery from a left elbow flexor pronator strain. But he almost certainly will not be ready to rejoin the Pirates until after the All-Star break.

»»» Last night, Ronny Cedeno swiped his seventh base of the season. His career high is eight, set in 2006 while playing for the Cubs.

»»» Of Octavio Dotel’s 15 saves this year, six have come against the Cubs.

»»» Double-A Altoona will send five players — pitchers Rudy Owens and Derek Hankins, infielder Josh Harrison, first baseman Matt Hague and catcher Hector Gimenez — to the Eastern League all-star game. It’s the most Curve players selected since 2008. The game will be played July 14 in Harrisburg.

»»» Right-hander Duke Welker was promoted to High-A Bradenton. Welker was a second-round pick in 2007. Left-hander Eliecer Navarro was moved up to Low-A West Virginia. Righties Casey Sandler and Jason Townsend, two draft picks who this week signed contracts, were sent to short-season State College.

»»» Monday, Altoona gave up six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and lost, 7-6, against Binghamton. It was the first time in 43 games this season the Curve lost when leading after eight innings.

»»» Infielder Ramon Vazquez signed a minor league contract with the Astros. The Pirates cut Vazquez the day before the season opener and he signed with the Mariners. But Vazquez was cut again last week by Seattle after hitting .216 in 35 games with Triple-A Tacoma.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (26-50) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Andy LaRoche 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss. 9. Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.60) rhp

Cubs (33-43) – 1. Kosuke Fukudome rf, 2. Ryan Theriot 2b, 3. Derrek Lee 1b, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Tyler Colvin cf, 6. Alfonso Sorriano lf, 7. Koyie Hill c, 8. Starlin Castro ss, 9. Ted Lilly (2-6, 3.28) lhp

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Crosby’s head injury not serious

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CHICAGO — Bobby Crosby does not expect to miss any time after colliding with right fielder Lastings Milledge tonight as they chased a pop-up.

In the clubhouse after the game, I jokingly held up three fingers and asked Crosby to count ‘em. “Five,” he deadpanned, then laughed.

“I’ve got a headache right now,” said Crosby, whose jaw absorbed the blow from Milledge’s shoulder. “Nothing too bad. I’m feeling better already. When I went up to hit (in the third inning), I kept trying to snap myself out of it but really couldn’t do it, so they took me out.”

»»» Neil Walker, who on Friday collided with right fielder Ryan Church, continues to suffer from concussion symptoms, although results were negative from an MRI exam earlier today. Walker will see a specialist Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

»»» Tonight’s comeback win snapped a 17-game losing streak away in road games. The big blow was rookie Jose Tabata’s one-out, RBI double in the ninth off Carlos Marmol. It was Tabata’s first game-winner.

“I’m really excited for Jose,” manager John Russell said. “What a great hit off a premier closer. Big smile on his face, it was really a lot of run. It was a game we desperately needed.”

»»» Here’s a stunning stat: When Paul Maholm struck out Tyler Colvin, it was the first out of any kind recorded by a Pirates starting pitcher in the eighth inning all season.

»»» In the eighth, the Pirates had runners on second and third with two outs. But, Pedro Alvarez went down swinging — his 18th strikeout in 38 at-bats since being called up from Triple-A.

»»» The Dodgers signed lefty reliever Jack Taschner, who became a free agent after spurning the Pirates’ outright assignment to Triple-A Indy. In his debut Sunday with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, Taschner gave up a solo homer.

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Duke “on track” after soft-toss

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CHICAGO — Left-hander Zach Duke (elbow pronator strain) threw soft-toss Sunday (25 tosses) and Monday (40 tosses). “Felt good,” Duke said. “I’m right on track.”

Duke is scheduled to throw a side session off the mound Friday. If the Pirates want Duke to throw two sides before beginning a rehab assignment, he’ll likely miss at least two more starts.

With Duke on the disabled list, Daniel McCutchen remains in line to make another spot start Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

»»» Neil Walker (concussion) was sent back to Pittsburgh for a checkup and medical tests. No word yet from the Pirates about the results.

It is interesting to note, however, that infielder Aki Iwamura was a healthy scratch from the lineup tonight at Triple-A Indy. Could Walker be headed to the DL and Iwamura be back on his way to Pittsburgh?

»»» The Pirates signed three more draft picks, all right-handed pitchers out of colleges: Casey Sadler (25th round) of Western Oklahoma State, Jason Townsend (31st) of Alabama, and James Archibald (36th) of McLennan (Texas) CC.

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Walker sent home for tests

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CHICAGO — Second baseman Neil Walker (concussion) was sent back to Pittsburgh, where he will be re-evaluated by team doctors. So far, Walker has not been placed on the disabled list. The Pirates are hopeful Walker can return to action later this week.

»»» There was a rumor buzzing around that infielder Jim Negrych was spotted at the team hotel, and had been called up to take Walker’s place. No dice. Negrych is in the lineup tonight for Triple-A Indy.

»»» Daniel McCutchen is still with the team and is listed as the starter Thursday against the Phillies.

»»» Since June 9, Lastings Milledge leads all National League players (minimum 35 at-bats) with a .436 batting average.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (25-50) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Bobby Crosby 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss. 9. Paul Maholm (4-6, 4.24) lhp

Cubs (33-42) – 1. Ryan Theriot 2b, 2. Tyler Colvin rf, 3. Marlon Byrd cf, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 6. Alfonso Sorriano lf, 7. Geovany Soto c, 8. Starlin Castro ss, 9. Randy Wells (3-6, 5.21) rhp

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McCutchen says start is something to build off of

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Daniel McCutchen said it wasn’t his best stuff on Saturday, but it was something to build off of.

McCutchen went six innings – longer than he had in any of his three previous starts earlier this season – with four runs on seven hits, two walks and two strikeouts. He struggled with his fastball location and fell behind in the count in the early innings, but his command, changeup and slider all got better as the game went on.

“Early on I definitely had some jitters and some nerves and kind of sped everything up and didn’t really give myself a chance the first couple innings,” McCutchen said. “Although the second inning, 0-2 pitch, one away from getting out of it, and I left a fastball that got too much of the plate (on Daric Barton’s two-RBI double). After that I felt I slowed the game down and got a few breaks.”

McCutchen was starting for Zach Duke, who is on the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain in his elbow and expected to miss at least one more start. So did he do enough tonight to stay, or might the Pirates want to take a look at Charlie Morton, who pitched a two-hit complete game with Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday?

McCutchen got a chance to watch Morton pitch in that game before heading to the West Coast.

“Reminded me of the Charlie I saw in Chicago last year,” he said, referring to Morton’s first major league shutout, a four-hit win over the Cubs last September. “Last inning, popping 96 (miles per hours), on pitch (numbers) 105 and 106.”

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Walker diagnosed with concussion; lineups for Saturday

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Second baseman Neil Walker was discharged from the hospital this morning and has been diagnosed with a concussion. He is expected to be out at least through the rest of the weekend series against the Oakland A’s, however his status and return to play is unknown.

Walker was injured on Friday night when he collided with right fielder Ryan Church going for a ball in foul territory.

Here is today’s lineup for the Pirates:
Tabata, lf
Young, dh
A. Mccutchen, cf
Jones, 1b
Doumit, c
Alvarez, 3b
Milledge, rf
Crosby, 2b
Cedeno, ss

Crisp, cf
Barton, 1b
Jackson, lf
Suzuki, c
Sweeney, rf
Kouzmanoff, 3b
Cust, dh
Ellis, 2b
Pennington, ss
Cahill, p

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Walker taken to hospital after collision

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Second baseman Neil Walker collided with right fielder Ryan Church going for a ball in foul territory in the seventh inning tonight and Walker left the game with a head injury.

He was taken to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland for a CT scan, and manager John Russell said after the Pirates’ 14-4 loss to the A’s that they’d know more later on tonight.

“He got banged in the head pretty good,” Russell said. “We went out there and he was talking and seemed OK.”

With the A’s leading by one run, both players were running for a ball popped up by Kevin Kouzmanoff. Walker came in low and his head met with Church’s hip as the right fielder went over him. Walker came to a rest, unmoving, but had his eyes open and was talking to team personnel by the time television cameras zoomed in.

Russell said he didn’t think Walker was knocked unconscious but it was close.

Four minutes after the collision Walker sat up and was helped off the field.

“The initial shock got him,” Russell said. “But when he got up he had a little headache. He wasn’t nauseous or anything so we’re hoping for the best.”

Before the injury Walker was 3-for-4 with a double and a solo home run, and was charged with an error in the first inning.

Church had his right knee wrapped in ice after the game but said he was OK.

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