PITTSBURGH -- There has been no official announcement by the club, but all indications are that the Pirates are preparing to start top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln in Washington on Wednesday night.
The club has not yet listed a starter for the game, which will come one day after Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg makes his highly-publicized Major League debut. But speaking on his weekly radio show on Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington confirmed that Lincoln is a candidate to fill that spot.
"We're not at liberty to say that Brad Lincoln will pitch that game, nor will I sit here and say Brad Lincoln will not pitch that game," Huntington said. "Brad is definitely a candidate to make his Major League debut Wednesday night."
That's as close as Huntington has ever come to hinting that Lincoln's much-anticipated debut is around the corner. Wednesday would be Zach Duke's regular turn in the rotation.
Lincoln, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was recently speculated as a possible opponent against Strasburg on Tuesday, since that would have been Lincoln's regularly scheduled day to pitch. Lincoln last pitched on Thursday, when he picked up his sixth win of the season with six shutout innings.
That speculation was squashed, though, when the Pirates named Jeff Karstens as Tuesday's starter. Still, Huntington emphasized on Sunday that a decision to pitch Lincoln the day after Strasburg had nothing to do with a lack of confidence that Lincoln couldn't rise to the occasion.
"There was never a hesitation to run him out there against Strasburg," Huntington said. "We've been aligning here for a little bit now. I'm sure if you were going to ask Brad, I'm sure he'd love nothing more than to go head to head with Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night.
"Could we have pulled Brad forward? I'm sure he would have loved the challenge. Our job was to put Brad in a position to be successful against the Nationals."
Lincoln's debut has been anticipated since the right-hander began the season in Triple-A Indianapolis' rotation. After going 6-2 with a 4.70 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts last season, Lincoln is 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA through 11 this season. More important than results, though, is that Lincoln has ticked off each item on his developmental checklist.
He's throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. He's incorporating changeups more consistently and doing so effectively. And he's locating his fastball down in the zone.
Asked after his last start if he felt he was ready to take the step to the next level, Lincoln expressed no hesitancy. "Absolutely, I've been tasting it for the last month, month and a half," Lincoln said. "I have been getting ready and prepared for that next level, and right now I feel like I can go up there and compete with the best of them. I've always been that type of guy that wants to be in the big situation and go up against the best and hopefully I get that chance soon."
Assuming Lincoln does make his debut next week, he will be the first of the Pirates' three big Triple-A prospects to reach Pittsburgh. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, of course, are not expected to be far behind.
As for what this might do to the Pirates' rotation, Lincoln would knock either Dana Eveland or Karstens out in order to settle into a permanent spot.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.