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Lincoln nearing return to bullpen competition

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Right-hander Brad Lincoln is nearing a return to the mound following a brief absence with soreness in his right shoulder.

Toronto's right-hander has not appeared in a game since March 9, when he threw one scoreless inning against the Tigers.

"He was a little tender in the shoulder, but he shouldn't be too far off," manager John Gibbons said prior to Friday's 4-2 loss to Detroit. "In the next couple of days he'll be pitching."

Lincoln can ill afford to miss very much time considering he is competing for one of the final two spots in Toronto's bullpen. The 27-year-old had previously been attempting to stretch out as a starter, but that plan was abandoned in early March.

The Blue Jays also are considering Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Jeremy Jeffress and to a lesser extent J.A. Happ and Neil Wagner for the final two spots in the bullpen.

Lincoln could make a strong case for one of the jobs, but he has options remaining on his contract and could start the year at Triple-A Buffalo. The same cannot be said for Cecil and Jeffress, who both would have to clear waivers before being sent down.

In 24 games last season for the Blue Jays, Lincoln had a 5.65 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. His numbers in Pittsburgh were more favorable, as he posted an impressive 2.73 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings of work.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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