Solid start vs. KC represents step in right direction for Cardinals' Lyons
ST. LOUIS -- Saturday was a calming of the waters for Cardinals starting pitcher Tyler Lyons.
His appearances this year at the major league level had amounted to little more than flirtations, thanks to a horrific 5.54 ERA over 13 innings pitched. By the time he'd gotten through five innings of Saturday's showdown with the Kansas City Royals, the ERA had dropped at least to 5.00 and his club was leading 3-2.
Then the rain came -- hard. When play resumed after a 24-minute delay, Matt Belisle was on the mound for the Cardinals, and the bullpen and solid defense in the outfield took care of the rest.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was coy on whether Lyons would have started the sixth if not for the rain delay; had Lyons done so, it would have been the deepest into a game he'd pitched all year.
"He was on a short leash," Matheny said. "He may have started that inning to see if they make a move over there, but he could have been done as well."
Lyons, of course, wanted to go back out.
"I thought especially as the game kind of went along I thought I kind of got in a little bit more of a groove," he says. "The rain can mess with that a little bit, and for this outing, it was the end of it. It is what it is, though."
The decision capped off what was arguably the strongest of Lyons' four outings with the Cardinals this season. He gave up three hits on 79 pitches and had six strikeouts, two earned runs and only one walk. His numbers against the Pirates on May 10 of this year were comparable, but he ended up with fewer hits against him Saturday and even provided a smidgen of offense -- a single at the top of the fourth off a curveball from Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Kansas City first baseman Kendrys Morales tried for a piece of it and was unsuccessful, which left outfielder Alex Rios to field the ball, and Lyons on first.
His biggest problem on the mound remains the long ball. He's given up at least one home run in three of his four games pitched in the majors this season. The Royals burned him twice on solo home runs Saturday. The first came on a 2-2 slider to left-hander Alex Gordon in the second inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead; the second came on a 3-1 sinker that didn't sink to Salvador Perez in the fourth to tie the game 2-2.
Matheny had told reporters before the game that Lyons needed to make sure he controlled the counts and, according to Lyons, that played a role in both home runs.
"Both of them, I fell behind the count," he admits. "I was 2-0, and then I was 3-0 in the other one. Obviously, don't really want to be in those hitters' counts, and Perez hit a sinker, I was just trying to get to sink low and away and it stayed up and he put it out. And I tried to throw a slider for a strike and Gordon got ahold of that one. So it was not ideal, but when you're behind the count like that, you know it makes for a little better for the hitter."
Still, Saturday was a step in the right direction for the 27-year-old, who's yet to find a consistent role in the majors. His first two outings as a major leaguer -- both in May 2013 -- remain his best, where he posted a 1. 29 ERA in seven innings pitched (one of those against the Royals). For all of Lyons' struggles at the parent club this season, his dominance in the Pacific Coast League this year has been notable: In two outings last week, he had a 0.00 ERA in 13 innings pitched.
In the first inning Saturday, he also pitched himself out of a dangerous situation after Lorenzo Cain, batting second for the Royals, doubled with one out, then stole third during Rios' at-bat. Lyons rebounded with back-to-back strikeouts.
"We've seen him come out and be very good in some of his starts. Usually, it's an inning that kind of blew up on him," Matheny says. "He had some opportunities for that to happen (Saturday). He had a guy on third base and made some tough pitches, that was big for him. A couple of other times we had some errors that could have sent stuff on a spiral."
Overall, however, the manager praised his starting pitcher for making "really good pitches when he had to." Saturday's game was also Lyons' first win in the majors this season, putting his record at 1-0. He got the start after being called up to replace Lance Lynn, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm strain.
Lyons said he didn't change anything about his approach after the call-up.
"I'm just trying to do the same things I've been working on all year, and that's just keeping the ball down and getting ahead in counts, and fortunately today I was able to do that a little bit," he said. "I would say it's the best execution I've had up here. I wouldn't say it's the best I've felt, necessarily, but just from pitch to pitch, I think the execution was as good as it's been for me this year. Didn't fall behind too many batters, and when I did, I paid for it. I had two solo shots, but overall, I felt good."