BRADENTON, Fla. -- No step is a small one for Brad Lincoln, who is in the middle of his journey back to full health after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right elbow just a little over one year ago.
So when the right-hander threw an inning in a Minor League game on Thursday and came off the mound reporting no discomfort, there was reason for a collective sigh of relief from both Lincoln and the Pirates organization.
"He said he felt like he had thrown for the first time in a year," said Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark, alluding to Lincoln's rustiness. "But he was checked out, and everything was fine."
Lincoln, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, had been shut down all of last year in order to recover from the surgery. He began a modified throwing program a few months ago before working his way up to being game ready.
He pitched one inning in Thursday's game against players in the Red Sox's farm system. Lincoln threw 14 pitches -- all fastballs -- and allowed one hit and struck out one.
"It was an encouraging first step," Stark said. "[The] effort level was good and his strength was good. His command was good. He didn't look like he hadn't thrown a ball in a year."
From here, Stark said the Pirates intend to begin stretching Lincoln out. The right-hander is slated to throw two innings in a Minor League game on Tuesday and then continue to pitch on a regular rotation schedule every five days.
Just as all other starters in camp increased their longevity by adding a frame to their workload each subsequent time out, Lincoln will extend himself an inning further each time he takes the mound.
According to Stark, the Pirates have not definitively decided on where Lincoln will begin the season. He will start at one of the two Class A clubs, though it seems that a start in extended Spring Training could be in the works for Lincoln before the organization sends him north.
By leaving Lincoln in Bradenton for an extra few weeks, the Pirates could monitor Lincoln's progress in a controlled environment rather than sending him right into a game situation.
A final determination on whether or not this is the planned course of action will come later in the week. Regardless, barring any setbacks, Lincoln is expected to be ready to start games at the Class A level in mid-April.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.