JUPITER, Fla. – Lance Lynn did enough last season to deserve a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation in 2013. At least that’s what the right-hander thinks.
“The way I approach it is it’s my spot,” Lynn said Tuesday. “That’s just the way it is. It’s my spot to lose. I was an 18-game winner last year with an All-Star appearance so I have to do a lot of things to lose the spot in my opinion.”
But Lynn did plenty himself this offseason to ensure he keeps a stranglehold on that spot. The right-hander used a new nutritional and workout plan to drop 40 pounds from his weight at the end of last season.
After finishing the NLCS last year weighing nearly 280 pounds, Lynn checked in Tuesday at 239 pounds during his official physical. And the changes are noticeable and significant, at least to others.
“I don’t feel like I look any different, I just don’t have a bear or long hair,” Lynn said. “People are happy and you make the right people happy and they stay off your back, that’s the way I see it.”
Lynn may be the only one not to notice a physical change. The right-hander lost so much weight and looked so different that most teammates and coaches didn’t recognize him when he arrived to camp.
“I was very surprised when I saw him,” said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist. “Last week I was here and I was coming out of the room over there and he was walking away from me and I had no idea who it was at first and he turned around and his face is strong and he lost all that access weight. He really looks good.”
But what exactly will the weight loss and lighter frame do for him?
“I have no idea really,” Lynn admits.
His manager Mike Matheny is not quite sure either.
“Does that translate into 28 wins instead of 18? Time will tell,” Matheny said. “What we do know is he took a huge step in his career and in his maturity in taking control of his career and realizing that I am going to do everything I can within my control and that’s something to be very proud of and he’ll reap the benefits of it.”
The Cardinals had conversations with Lynn late in the season and after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs about needing to get in better physical shape in the offseason. Always a bigger guy, Lynn slowly continued to add weight as the season went on. And his late-season struggles may have been a result of it.
Lynn filled in admirably for the injured Chris Carpenter a season ago, starting 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA in his first 13 games of the season. But after the right-hander was selected by his peers to his first All-Star Game, the results soon started to tumble. He posted a 5.89 ERA in his next 13 starts and was temporarily moved to the bullpen in late August and early September.
He returned to the rotation to make four starts to finish the regular season and posted a 2.19 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. Lynn made four relief appearances in the Wild Card and Division Series rounds before starting Games 1 and 5 of the NLCS against San Francisco. He posted a 5.73 ERA in the playoffs.
And it was after the heartbreaking end to their 2012 season that Lynn realized a body transformation was needed to get his health, and his career, back on track.
“To be better than last year,” Lynn said of his reasoning. “That’s what every motivation every winter is about, you want to be better than the year before. I think I left some things on the table last year that I could have done and I didn’t want to do it again this year.”
Said Lilliquist of the message to Lynn late last season, “We said you have to come into camp showing us that you put forth the effort in the offseason to show us you want that spot and he took the bull by the horns and he looks great. It’s all good.”
As was the case with several players this offseason, the Cardinals sent team chef Simon Lusky to visit Lynn and his wife in Oregon for a crash course on nutrition and eating healthy.
“I learned how to eat,” Lynn said. “As a kid you just eat whatever you can get your hands on and now I have the opportunity to know what I’m putting in my body and what’s good and what’s bad and that what it’s all about, doing everything you can to make sure your body is running on everything it needs to run on to be successful.
“You think you are eating healthy an then he talks to you about what’s in it and your not eating healthy at all. Just to learn the different foods and things you can supplement for things that aren’t as good for you to still have a good meal, it was fun to learn those things.”
Lynn and the Cardinals didn’t have a weight loss target or goal. In fact, Lynn didn’t care how much weight he lost.
“It was all about getting healthier and being stronger,” Lynn said. “I wasn’t even paying attention to the weight I was losing until I came in here and they were showing me where I was at and where I’m at now. I wasn’t stepping on a scale and seeing how much I lost everyday. It was as long as I feel good and all that, who cares.”
The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia penciled in to rotation spots this spring. Lynn would appear to have a grasp on the fourth spot while youngsters Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal figure to battle it out for the fifth spot.
But Lynn didn’t let his success in 2012 keep him from looking to do bigger things in 2013. The work he put in over the offseason was obvious. The results are obvious. How that impacts him this year figures to start coming into light soon.
“A lot has been made of Lance and the shape he’s in right now and I’m proud of him and I’m happy for him,” Matheny said. “When you have naturally talented guys that can get away with just talent a lot of times, there’s a lot of regret when a guy doesn’t’ go out and maximize it so it’s nice to see him go out and put that kind of effort in and I’m sure the results are going to be there to max it.
“He doesn’t want to be a guy who makes the All-Star team and then is not part of the rotation again. There were a lot of positive things that he was able to do last year but he sees room for growth and that to me is very impressive. Now what that translates to, we don’t know.”
The Cardinals are about to find out. Lynn is scheduled to throw his first official bullpen session of the spring on Tuesday.