Just days after Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list with elbow soreness, Jamie Garcia’s shoulder finally gave out and his 2013 season would come to an end. This was on May 17, and the bulk of the regular season was still ahead of the Cardinals. Not just any season, one that was shaping up to be quite a battle for the NL Central title. Thus began the Parade of Pitching Prospects as hurler after hurler made their major league debuts.
Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez had already made their debuts, replacing the ineffective Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs in the bullpen. Rzepczynski seems to have recovered from his early season troubles and is still pitching in Memphis. Mitchell Boggs is now with the Colorado Rockies AA affiliate in Tulsa.
Over the next few weeks, we would see major league debuts from John Gast, Tyler Lyons, Michael Blazek, Michael Wacha, Keith Butler and Kevin Siegrist. At this time, only Siegrist is on the active roster. John Gast is still on the disabled list and the others are in Memphis. For the moment.
What had once seemed like an endless supply of young pitching prospects had suddenly run out. The ripple effect was seen throughout the Cardinals minor league farm system, as pitchers were promoted quickly to fill the voids. In many cases, young pitchers were called on to mature quickly and face competition that was just a little above their level. Some, like left handed starter Tim Cooney and former-starter-now-closer Deryk Hooker in Springfield, have risen to that challenge and been very impressive. None have been better than Tyler Lyons, and that includes Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.
Many of us will remember different things about Tyler Lyons short time in the major leagues. His first two starts were as good as anybody we have seen in the last half century, both 7 inning affairs where he gave up just a single run. He would win both games, allowing just 6 hits in those 14 innings, striking out 9 while walking just 2. Some may scoff at his opponents, the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres, but that does a great disservice to not only Lyons, but two rosters full of professional baseball players.
The calendar then turned to June and Lyons successful run had come to an end, just about as quickly as it began. The Cardinals would lose his next four starts, prompting a roster change before the month was over. Some will remember just that and perhaps come to some wrong conclusions about Lyons performance. Let’s take a closer look.
June 2 – San Francisco at St. Louis
A pair of second inning singles led to an early Giants run, but a big inning was prevented when Lyons got Gregor Blanco to ground into a double play. That would score the run, but it also cleared the bases in front of the pitcher. Chad Gaudin struck out.
In the next inning, a two out double by Buster Posey led to the Giants second run of the game. That would come on the next batter when Hunter Pence ripped an RBI double of his own. Once again, Tyler Lyons ended the inning with a strike out, this time Brett Pill was the victim.
Thanks to David Freese, the Cardinals would get those runs back in the fouth inning, when the fan favorite launched a 2 run homer.
Lyons got into trouble in the seventh inning, and it came rather quickly. Since the Pence double in the third, Lyons had faced the minimum number of batters. Both hits he allowed were erased in double plays. With one out in the seventh inning, Brandon Crawford singled and Gregor Blanco drew a walk.
That was it for Mike Matheny and he made a pitching change, opting for the veteran, Randy Choate. With Seth Maness also warming in the bullpen, Choate might not have been the best choice. Pinch hitter Brandon Belt rips a double into the left center field gap and both base runners score. Seth Maness would then come into the game and retire the next two batters.
Lyons would take the loss, but had pitched as well as in his previous two starts.
June 8 – St. Louis at Cincinnati
Tyler Lyons would face Mat Latos in this Saturday evening battle between NL Central foes. Through the first five innings, it was Lyons that out-pitched Latos, although the final box score makes it look the other way around. At this point in the game, the score was tied at two runs each. The two Reds runs came on solo home runs by Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco.
Let’s take a quick stop here and review. Lyons 2 losses are due to a Buster Posey double and pair of solo home runs in Great America Ballpark (the home run launching pad of the National League). This is not the complete meltdown of a young pitcher – this is just baseball.
A pair of doubles by Derrick Robinson and Joey Votto (yeah, he’s pretty good too) would give the Reds a 3-2 lead, one that they would not surrender. Once again, the bullpen did not help Lyons, and he would earn his second hard luck loss on the season.
June 16 – St. Louis at Miami
Things are starting to unravel for the young Cardinals pitcher, but a closer look suggests it might not be as bad as some remember.
The Marlins jumped all over Lyons early, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning. That set the tone for what would turn out to be one rough inning after another. Although it first appeared as if Lyons turned things around, the Marlins scored two more runs in the fourth inning, and again in the fifth. In both cases, Lyons was one pitch away from getting out of trouble.
At 93 pitches, Mike Matheny took Lyons out of the game in the sixth inning, replacing him him Joe Kelly. Lyons final like looks awful – 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks. His ERA is now soaring from an eye-popping 1.29 on Memorial Day to 4.65. It would not stop there.
June 23 – Texas at St. Louis
This would be Lyons shortest outing of the year, just 1 2/3 innings. It would also be the last time we see Lyons pitching in St. Louis – at least for now. As with the previous game, the line score looks terrible, but a closer look shows that one at-bat did Lyons in – a 2 out walk to the pitcher. An American League pitcher. An American League pitcher with a .000 batting average over five major league seasons. If Lyons retires Derek Holland, the Rangers have just one run and this game may end much differently. But he didn’t, and they scored 4 runs before the inning was over.
Once again, Joe Kelly takes over, this time throwing 5 scoreless innings in relief. Kelly’s performance in this game earned him a spot in rotation, and Lyons would soon be optioned back to Memphis.
But that’s not the end to the Tyler Lyons story.
Instead of sulking or thinking about what may have been, Tyler Lyons has quietly gone about his business in Memphis, working on those very things that got him in trouble with the Cardinals. Although a quick look at his major league stats might suggest otherwise, this is not a case of a pitcher that can’t retire major league hitters. Instead, it is just a young and inexperienced pitcher losing focus while trying to retire the last out of the inning, and not limiting the damage that had been done. Lyons is hardly the first pitcher to go through this. And he won’t be the last.
Let’s take a look at his starts since returning to Memphis in late June.
|July 12||ND||5 2/3||3||2||2||5|
Let’s add that up, shall we. In 5 starts since being sent back down to Memphis, Lyons has thrown 33 2/3 innings, allowing 6 runs (1.60 ERA) on 14 hits. He has given up 7 walks to go with 33 strikeouts. Opponents are batting just .124 against him, and slugging (if you can call it that) .212.
Over that same period, Carlos Martinez has 3 starts with a slightly lower ERA at 1.40, but has given up nearly as many hits (13) in half the innings, same number of walks and fewer strikeouts. Michael Wacha also has 3 starts, going 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA.
As impressive as both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have been, the ace of the Memphis staff right now is Tyler Lyons. He has limited the damage when opponents start getting hits, and he is going deep into his starts. With a brutal six week schedule ahead, with just one travel day and a double header, don’t be surprised if we see Tyler Lyons making an occasional spot start. Or maybe more. Right now, he might be the best kept secret in all of the Cardinals farm system.