Lynn thriving after gaining opportunity to start
Adversity often leads to opportunity.
Weakness in his pitching shoulder caused by nerve irritation, as well as concurrent bulging disk issues, have sidelined St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. His injury created an unexpected vacancy in the team's starting rotation.
Anxiety caused by the ability of Adam Wainwright to successfully rebound from 2011 Tommy John surgery added to the uncertainty surrounding the club's starting rotation.
Following his year of rehabilitation, Wainwright started this season a bit slowly. Gradually, his full repertoire and command are returning, and his effectiveness issues can be placed on the back burner. One problem solved.
The Cardinals called upon 6-foot-5, 250 pound Lance Lynn to fill the vacancy left by Carpenter's injury. To date, the decision to move Lynn from his role in last year's bullpen to this year's starting rotation has paid handsome dividends. He has won all six of his starts. In the process, Lynn has fashioned an ERA of 1.40 in 38 2/3 innings of work. Equally impressive is his 0.85 WHIP. Opponents are hitting only .168 against him.
The Brownsburg, Ind., native enjoyed success as a pitcher for the University of Mississippi. In fact, in 2007 Lynn set a single-season strikeout record (146) and a career strikeout record (332) while pitching for Ole' Miss.
Selected by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Lynn moved quickly through the Cardinals' Minor League levels, primarily as a starting pitcher. He had a total of 414 1/3 innings pitched in the Cardinals system before being called to St. Louis in 2010. In parts of four seasons, he compiled a 32-18 record with a composite 3.69 ERA.
In a recent game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, I got to see why Lynn is having such success.
It is difficult to describe how imposing a figure Lynn is on the mound. Physically, he looks very much like a tight end or an offensive tackle on a football team. He has very broad shoulders and a massive upper body. He makes the most of his height in his downhill delivery in a direct path to the plate. Using a bit of an unorthodox motion that hides the ball well, his big frame just seems to smother the hitter as he extends his arm and finishes his pitches.
Representative of Lynn's mastery in the game I witnessed, he used a very savvy pitch sequence to dispatch D-backs power hitter Justin Upton on four superb pitches. Gerardo Parra had tripled off Lynn to start the game. Hitting second, with Parra on third, Lynn started Upton with a 93 mph four-seam fastball for a called strike one. He then backed that pitch with a 92 mph four-seamer that Upton fouled away. Down two strikes, Lynn pounded Upton with a third consecutive four-seamer that just missed the strike zone and was called ball one. Behind in the count, Upton may have been looking for another fastball. Lynn threw him a devastating 79 mph curveball that buckled Upton's knees and he swung and missed, striking out.
It was a masterful, tone-setting pitching sequence by a young and very astute pitcher who will turn 25 in mid-May.
There were times in his outing that Lynn lost a bit of command, falling behind in a few counts and issuing a couple of free passes. But as he told me after the game, he was not about to "give in" and get too much of the plate. Chase Field is a hitter's paradise, and Lynn was very aware of a critical need to keep the ball in the park.
Lynn does not shy away from pitching inside and keeping power hitters from extending their arms. He uses the entire plate, concentrating mostly on keeping the ball down and trying to either miss bats or induce ground balls. Using his four-seam tailing fastball with late action or his two-seam fastball with more sink, Lynn sets up hitters for the type of effective curveball or changeup that keeps hitters totally off balance.
Lynn is very good at showing a hitter a totally different pitch sequence the second and third time through the batting order. He isn't concerned about repeating his fastball and changing the location of the pitch the first time he faces the batter. When the same hitter faces Lynn for a second or third time, he is greeted by a nice array of the right-hander's efficient and effective secondary pitches sprinkled in the mix. He may be young, and this may be his first time in a Major League rotation, but Lynn pitches like a smart, seasoned veteran.
Lynn is not eligible for Rookie of The Year honors because he threw too many innings (34 2/3) last season. With the exception of two starts, all 16 other appearances came as a reliever.
Manager Mike Matheny is very well aware that Lynn has not pitched more than 164 innings in any season. That happened in 2010 when Lynn pitched for Triple-A Memphis. Matheny will look for opportunities to replace Lynn when he feels his pitch count, the game situation and/or the score justifies removing Lynn from the game earlier than might be expected.
Lynn is a quiet, unassuming, and humble "Mountain of a Man." He enjoyed great success last year in his rookie season, as he helped his club win a world championship, even gaining a playoff victory.
This year, he was available to the Cardinals as a starter at the right time and when they needed him the most. He has been an outstanding pitcher on a staff that was challenged with the loss of Carpenter.
Lynn is a major component of a Cardinals starting rotation trying to defend its World Series title. He has taken advantage of a golden opportunity to help his team overcome adversity.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.