The last-place Pittsburgh Pirates revamped their pitching staff after a 6-3 loss to San Diego on Sunday dropped them 30 games below .500, optioning Lincoln back to Triple-A Indianapolis and designating Donnelly for assignment.
"I've been released a few times in my career and you have a hunch, but I didn't see this one coming," said Donnelly, who was 3-1 in 38 games with a 5.58 ERA that was inflated by several rough games. "I felt like I've been throwing well for a month."
Lincoln (1-4) remains the Pirates' top pitching prospect, but his ERA climbed to 6.57 after he gave up 7 hits and 13 runs in his last two starts. He also hasn't shown the dominating fastball he had while going 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA earlier with Indianapolis.
"I need to clear my head and get back to where I was before I got here," Lincoln said.
Manager John Russell said, "He'll be back here, he's got too good of stuff. I think the first time around was a learning experience for him. A lot of pitchers go through what Brad did, you come up the first time and it's a little bit of a struggle."
The Pirates denied they shed Donnelly because he was about to start collecting on performance incentives that could have more than doubled his $1.35 million salary.
The former Angels set-up reliever was signed by Pittsburgh partly to help develop the staff's young relievers, and both NL All-Star Evan Meek and right-hander Joel Hanrahan have pitched much better this season with his help.
As Donnelly packed up his gear, all of the Pirates' relievers came over to exchange hugs and tell him they hoped he landed soon with another team.
"I know I was strong in the clubhouse," Donnelly said. "I feel like I've helped them a little bit to be successful at this level. So apparently my job here was done."
The Pirates, whose 34-64 record is the NL's worst, told Donnelley they were "moving forward" without him.
"They're moving forward and that's fine," Donnelly said. "Good luck to the players in here. I don't know what their definition of moving forward is, but we'll see."
The Pirates will recall right-hander Daniel McCutchen (4-8, 3.99 ERA at Indianapolis) for the second time this season to start Saturday in St. Louis. Left-hander Wil Ledezma, who has an 0.94 ERA in 35 games at Indianapolis, will replace Donnelly. Another reliever will join the Pirates on Tuesday in Denver, but likely will get sent down when McCutchen is activated.
Meanwhile, Huntington doesn't expect the Pirates to be nearly as active at the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers as they were the last two seasons, when they moved Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow, Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett from June 1 on.
One reason? The Pirates' only attractive veteran players are relievers Hanrahan, Meek and Octavio Dotel.
"Last year, we had some guys nearing free agency, so it was more apparent we were probably going to make some trades," Huntington said. "This year, we've got some [prospective] free agents with a lower profile. So it's a different group of players we're looking at, and we're in a different mindset than we've been in the past."