ST. LOUIS — The morning after Lance Lynn frustrated a sold-out Busch Stadium on Saturday night with a plodding, subpar pitching performance, he was watching over young daughter Mia Jane as she paraded around the Cardinals’ dugout. Just a few feet away, Mike Matheny was conducting his regular pregame session with the media.
If Lynn could have heard what his manager was saying, he might not have seemed so at ease.
Matheny’s main topic was Lynn, specifically a meeting between the two earlier that morning. While Matheny typically shares only as much information as he feels he has to with reporters, he was downright expansive talking about his big right-hander’s behavior during the Cardinals’ 5-3 loss to the Padres.
Lynn not only had grinded the game to a painfully slow pace, he had rubbed some teammates the wrong way with his reactions to a few plays that did not work out in his favor. If you want to land in Matheny’s seldom-used (if ever) doghouse, showing up teammates would be a sure ticket.
“You have to be real careful around here,” Matheny said. “We take a lot of pride in how your teammates perceive you.”
To say Lynn showed up his teammates might be an exaggeration, if only slightly. In baseball, one word or even a quick glance in the wrong direction can say a lot more than most would think. And Lynn did enough that a few teammates also had something to say to him, according to Matheny.
Controlling emotions is not a new challenge for Lynn. While some work best with ice in their eyes, he pitches with a fire in his belly. Despite a rocky stretch, his ways have worked pretty well. Lynn has gone 29-11 as a Cardinals starter and while there’s valid reason that wins have been discounted in the stat community, the W remains key in the clubhouse. Sure, he benefits from the best run support in the National League, but Lynn still has kept the Cardinals in virtually every start he’s made.
“It’s kind of a weird combination to have a guy who’s had some struggles but has had so much success at the same time,” Matheny said. “He finds a way to give us a chance to win even with some tough times. So it’s something really hard to put your hands around.”
Lynn isn’t trying to tick off his teammates, Matheny said. Until being brought to his attention, Lynn might not even have been aware of his irritating antics. Then when he found out he wasn’t making some of them very happy, he might have overreacted. Matheny believes Lynn started taking too long between pitches to help him stay calm.
The result, obviously, was not what Lynn or the Cardinals wanted.
“He was so frustrated because he thought this was a game he clearly needed to pick us up with, and that he could win,” Matheny said. “Things started happening and instead of going to break something, he slowed things down more.”
Matheny would rather see Lynn boil on the mound than bore. The skipper compared Lynn’s intensity with that of Chris Carpenter, who has been known to blow off a little steam on the mound.
“This guy is wired different, about like a Carp,” Matheny said. “If Carp early in his career said a lot of things he did later in his career, he would have had a lot of people talking to him. You can’t be screaming at people. You also realize like we’re realizing now (with Lynn), some of that is part of your greatness.
“If he’s going to be angry out there, I want him to be the angriest man on the planet. The priority is winning games. I’m not asking any of these guys to be choirboys, but I do care very much how they all get along.”
As problems go, channeling the spirit of a 26-year-old starter is not a bad one to face. It doesn’t rank with, say, having to deal with your slugger being suspended for PEDs, or trying to replace your All-Star closer five days after the break.
But for the Cardinals to stay on top of the NL Central, they need Lynn to pitch like he did in the season’s first two months.
The same holds for the club’s youngest rotation member, Shelby Miller, who has made it through six innings only once in his past five starts and walked a season-high five in his last start.
Miller will work for the first time in 13 days Tuesday night when the Cardinals open a three-game series against the Phillies. He said he spent his time off tweaking his mechanics to improve his command.
Lynn closes out the series Thursday (at 6:15 p.m.). Despite their 2-6 combined record over the past month, the Cardinals have won nine of 12 and reestablished their place on top of the division.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.