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Notes: Lincoln has elbow surgery

Notes: Lincoln undergoes surgery

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HOUSTON -- Right-hander Brad Lincoln, Pittsburgh's first pick (fourth overall) in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, will be out for at least a year after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery on Monday.

The procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

"We anticipate he'll be able to start throwing again sometime in '08," Pirates senior vice president and general manager Dave Littlefield said. "Evidently, at the end of instructional league he had a little discomfort. He thought it was normal."

When the discomfort didn't go away, Lincoln informed the Pirates, who had team medical personnel check the pitcher's arm. Further examinations confirmed the initial diagnosis that Lincoln's elbow would require the procedure.

"It went fine," Lincoln said. "It's frustrating, because it is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me, but it's over and now all I can do is rest and wait until I can get back out there."

Lincoln said he would be able to pick up a baseball in five months and resume pitching in eight to 11 months.

"That's the [timetable] they gave me," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

Lincoln, 21, appeared in six games last season for the Gulf Coast Rookie League Pirates and Class A Hickory. He struck out nine and walked one in 7 2/3 Rookie League innings and was 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA for Hickory. Overall he was 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA.

Lincoln, a product of the University of Houston, was rated the third-best pitcher in last year's draft by Baseball America.

"It varies from case to case, but typically [with] this type of procedure a pitcher doesn't pick up a ball for six to eight months," Littlefield said. "It can be 10-12 months before he starts throwing off a mound again, but again, it varies."

Diamond D: Pittsburgh's impressive come-from-behind victory over Houston on Opening Day had many pleasing aspects for Pirates manager Jim Tracy, not the least of which was a Pirates defense that might be better than many observers thought.

Tracy has been saying for weeks he's noticed areas of growth in his improving team, and one of those areas is team defense.

"Part of it is the physical aspect that you see, but I think another part of playing good defense is the mental awareness and the mental focus and preparation that allows some of the physical aspects to happen even more naturally than you think they would because you're prepared for something before it actually occurs," Tracy said before Tuesday night's game against the Astros.

"And that's something that we needed to work on from what I could see."

The Pirates not only played errorless ball in the opener, they turned three double plays and had a couple of defensive gems to save runs.

Center fielder Chris Duffy threw out a runner at the plate and another at second base. The two outfield assists put Duffy atop the National League leaderboard in that category and tied him with Baltimore's Nick Markakis for the Major League lead. Second baseman Jose Castillo prevented another Houston run with a diving stop in the sixth.

"Our defense played unreal," outfielder Jason Bay said. "I told [Duffy] after the second one, 'You're leading the league in outfield assists.'"

It was just one game, but even so it was a lot of leather being flashed by the defense on a night when any less of a performance probably would have meant defeat.

"From the defensive side of it, last night was one of those games where you had no room for error whatsoever," Tracy said. "You are in a situation where you need a special play made, like the line drive that was caught by our second baseman [Castillo]. That's the game right there. If that ball goes through, it's 3-0 and it's still multiple runners on base, there's nobody out and you're in big trouble with the way that guy on the other side of the field [Roy Oswalt] is throwing the ball."

Castillo robbed Carlos Lee of a run-scoring hit with a diving grab of Lee's liner.

"The ball whizzed past my head," Pirates starter Zach Duke said. "[Castillo] makes plays like that all the time. We've come to expect it. Plays like that are unbelievable. I'm just glad he's on our side."

Like Castillo, Duffy also saved Duke a run. After throwing out Luke Scott in the second when the Astros right fielder tried to stretch a single into a double, Duffy helped Duke avoid further damage in the fifth by throwing out Chris Burke at home plate when Burke tried to score on a base hit to center. Duffy barehanded the ball and came up firing to nip Burke at the plate.

"The ball wasn't hit very hard at all, I saw Burke kind of tried to see it [get] through first, he didn't get a good jump, I know he can run so I know I didn't have a lot of time," Duffy said. "[My] instinct [was] to barehand it and get rid of it."

It was the kind of defensive play that can give pitchers added confidence. Duke said he knows that if he can just get opposing hitters to put the ball in play, his teammates behind will take care of the rest.

"That's how this team is going to win games," Duffy said. "Pitching and defense and timely hits."

Grabow throws: Left-hander John Grabow, on the 15-day disabled list because of left elbow irritation, threw a 50-pitch bullpen session Monday in Bradenton, Fla., and is scheduled to throw live batting practice later this week.

"Grabow is moving towards pitching down in Florida in a game against some of the Rookie League kids," Tracy said. "From a progression standpoint, once he gets closer at some point we'll bring him here so that [bullpen coach] Bobby [Cuellar] and [pitching coach] Jimmy Colborn can get their hands on him and fine-tune him a little bit and that may take place somewhere in between the fine-tuning and prior to going out and pitching in some rehab [innings]."

Grabow is eligible to come off the disabled list on April 7.

Extra bases: Reigning NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez (right knee sprain) is also eligible to return from the DL on April 7. "Freddy works out [Wednesday] with [Triple-A Indianapolis] and plays with Indy on Thursday, and we'll go from there," Tracy said. ... Outfielder Luis Matos and pitcher Dan Kolb have accepted their assignment to the Minor Leagues and are scheduled to report to Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday. ... Littlefield confirmed the club has had conversations with Jose Hernandez about the infielder's plans.

On deck: The Pirates wrap up their season-opening three-game series with Houston on Wednesday night when they take on right-hander Woody Williams and the Astros in an 8:05 p.m. ET game at Minute Maid Park. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will make his first start of the season for the Pirates.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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