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With five starts under his belt, Lance Lynn isn't as good as he was last year... He's better

It would be easy to say that Lance Lynn is proving that his 18-win season in 2012 wasn't a fluke by starting 2013 with five consecutive wins.

But the truth of the matter is that it's selling Lynn short to say he's as good this year as he was last. He's actually pitching much, much better.

Lynn showed up from spring training minus 40 pounds around the middle. And that's a huge sign of commitment. But the change between his ears is at least as impressive.

Last year Lynn had a pair of trademarks: First, he gave up a ton of runs in the first inning and seemed almost always to be working from behind. Second, he had a habit of going from good to bad in the blink of an eye, turning a dominating start into a questionable outing with a sudden bunching of opponents' hits or a meltdown after a teammate's error.

He counted on the offense to bail him out in a lot of games. But he wasn't always capable of bailing out the hitters if they couldn't score a lot of runs. That's not the same guy who was on the mound at Busch Stadium Wednesday.

In the second inning against Cincinnati, left fielder Matt Holliday made a lousy play on a short flair down the left field line. Not only couldn't he catch the ball, Holliday let it get past him and by the time it stopped rolling Jay Bruce was on third with a one-out triple.

The 2012 version of Lance Lynn would have pouted. You could see his shoulders sag from the bleachers. Not the 2013 edition, however. Lynn was aware of the situation and exploited Cincinnati's weakness. He grazed sixth place hitter Todd Frazier with a pitch while refusing to give in to make it first and third -- not a big loss because it set up a potential double play.

That brought up David Lutz who was making his major league debut. Lynn popped him up. Then, after Frasier stole second, he walked catcher Corky Miller before getting opposing hurler homer Bailey to ground out weakly to third.

No damage done. And it wasn't the only time Lynn pitched out of trouble.

In the fourth inning Bruce led off with a single, potential starting a scoring threat. Lynn coaxed Frasier into a double play to put that uprising to bed. 

In the sixth Joey Votto walked with one out and scored when Lynn threw a bad slider that Brandon Phillips ripped for a double to tie the game. With Phillips in scoring position and one out, Lynn buckled down and struck out the next two hitters.

Lynn left after seven innings with one run allowed on five hits and a walk. He struck out five and walked two. Through five starts he's allowing 1.11 runners per inning pitched, he's got nearly a 3:1 strikeouts to walks ratio and he has given the Redbirds a real chance to win every time he's taken the ball.

Last year, despite his record, I held my breath every start he made. He allowed 24 runs in 29 first innings pitched, so you never could be certain he was going to make it to the second frame. This year he's allowed two runs in five first innings.

It's early in the campaign, so no one is nominating Lynn for the Cy Young Award at this point.

But there is reason to be excited because we saw last year that he physically had what it takes to be a successful pitcher. Now that he's begun to demonstrate he has what it takes between his ears, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about his future.