It's hard for the Pittsburgh Pirates to take a positive approach to the end of their season after their rapid descent from first place, but Brad Lincoln's return to the rotation might be one reason for optimism.
Lincoln has delivered three quality starts since moving from the bullpen, a successful run he'll hope to extend Tuesday night against the visiting Houston Astros.Pittsburgh (65-76) has gone from a half-game ahead of Milwaukee in late July to 19 1/2 games back, so instead of contending it's spending September evaluating its roster.It's been counting on Lincoln (1-1, 3.64 ERA) to contribute since making him the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, but he didn't make a positive impression by going 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA in 11 games -- nine starts -- upon arriving in the majors in 2010.After spending the first three months of 2011 at Triple-A Indianapolis, the right-hander has made eight appearances with the Pirates since July, and he's posted a 2.63 ERA in his four starts.Three of those have come since he joined the rotation Aug. 22. The latest was his worst of the bunch, but he recovered from allowing three first-inning runs Thursday against Los Angeles to pitch five additional scoreless innings in a 6-4 loss.All five runs Lincoln has surrendered over his past three starts have come in the first."You want to give your team the best chance to win and I feel I did that," Lincoln told the Pirates' official website. "... Just eliminate the first inning and everything was good."Lincoln had some trouble early in his lone career start against the Astros (47-94) as well. Two of the five runs he allowed over five innings came in the first -- including a solo homer to Carlos Lee -- in a 6-2 loss July 6, 2010.Pittsburgh would certainly take a start from Lincoln that closely resembled what James McDonald did Monday. After only once making it through seven innings all season, McDonald pitched into the eighth in a 3-1 win over Houston.The Astros have totaled five runs during their four consecutive defeats."It's one of those days we have to hope to put behind us and move on," said left fielder J.D. Martinez, who's 2 for 15 without an RBI this month after driving in 28 -- second in the NL -- in August.Houston tries to even this series by sending Brett Myers (3-13, 4.81) to the mound, but that could be a lot to ask considering it's 5-18 in the right-hander's last 23 starts.His latest, however, was perhaps his best in 2011. Myers held the Giants to two hits and a run over seven innings Aug. 27 in a 2-1, 10-inning loss."You can only control what you can control," Myers told the Astros' official website. "I'm going to go out there and keep trying to give us the best chance to win. If the wins are there, that would be great. If not, there's nothing I can do about that."Myers pitched two innings of relief last Tuesday in an 8-2 win over the Pirates after deciding he'd skip his Friday start to be present for the birth of his fourth child.He's 6-6 with a 3.26 ERA against Pittsburgh. Andrew McCutchen is 11 for 19 with a homer against Myers, while Derrek Lee is 17 for 38 with three home runs.Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata likely won't play Tuesday after exiting Monday's game with a sore left wrist.