During Mike Matheny's first season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals it seemed like Lance Lynn was more likely to become a permanent resident of the club's doghouse than its starting rotation.
It was crystal clear that Matheny had zero faith in the big righty, publicly criticizing his work ethic, toughness and even his body language. People in the clubhouse were certain Lynn's days with the club were numbered. before exiling him to the bullpen.
Given that starting point, it's all the more impressive that Lynn has blossomed into the Redbirds' most reliable starting pitcher in 2014.
I'm not saying that he's better than Adam Wainwright, the ace who has the potential to pitch a complete game shutout every time he takes the mound. But Wainwright has had a few clunkers this season. Meanwhile, Lynn, who used to be known for having one awful inning in every game he started, is the least likely St. Louis hurler right now to have a bad day.
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He's pitched six innings or more in all but one of his last 10 starts for St. Louis, the exception being that horrible game in Los Angeles during which he gave up nine hits and seven runs in two frames. Later it was revealed that Lynn struggled with his control in that contest because he had a problem with a blister on one of the fingers on his pitching hand.
Even if you include that mess at Dodgers stadium, Lynn has held opposing hitters to a .211 batting average with 48 hits allowed in 62 2/3 innings during that span. He's compiled a 2.15 ERA in those games and has struck out 58 while walking 22. Subtract the bad game and he's allowed 39 hits in his last 60 2/3 innings.
Let's be realistic. Even the best major league starting pitcher is going to have a bad day now and again. But Lynn has failed to pitch at least five innings only twice in his 22 starts this year. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of those starts. Only six times this year has he allowed more hits than the number of innings he pitched in a game. And two of those games were his first two starts of the year. To limit the bad games to once every 10 starts is phenomenally good.
The manager's impression of Lynn changed so much that on Tuesday, with the game on the line and two runners on base after a pair of fielding miscues caused the Boston Red Sox to be able gain the lead in the game, Matheny opted to let the big starter stay in the contest.
In years past, Lynn would have unraveled in front of us all, allowing three or four runs to score and the Redbirds wouldn't be able to make up for it. But last night Lynn gutted through the inning, kept the deficit at one and gave his teammates a cause to rally, earning the win when they scored twice in the bottom of the frame.
Last season Lynn showed up for camp in fantastic shape, so dedicated to his craft that he shed 30 pounds over the winter. That's impressive. But this year he has somehow strengthened himself mentally, finding a way to keep his cool when the defense makes an error, the umpire makes a call with which he doesn't agree or he just doesn't have his best stuff.
Limiting damage is the key to what makes a pitcher successful. There's no way to keep from giving up an occasional run here or there. But avoiding crooked number innings is the way that MLB pitchers earn their paychecks.
It seemed like Lynn, a former first round draft pick, was overshadowed during his development by Shelby Miller, a guy scouts loved even when he was pitching to high schoolers. In my book, Lynn currently is the more valuable pitcher. That's not a criticism of Miller, who is more than a year behind Lynn when it comes to experience and development.
It's just a statement that fans -- and the Cardinals staff -- need to remember how young these players are and give them a change to grow and reach their potential before they're discarded. Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and several other young Redbirds hurlers are going to continue to suffer growing pains now and again. I just hope they are as dedicated to getting better as Lynn has proved to be.
Lynn, who many Birds fans moaned was a product of the 2013 Cardinals' prolific offense, has proved he's a keeper by continuing to rack up wins while St. Louis' scoring has dried up. He's earned his spot in the number two slot in the rotation.