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Lance Lynn is really becoming something special

I'm not sure why St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn has been so overlooked through the early part of his career.

But the big, strapping right-hander seems to really be coming into his own both as an on the field performer and a clubhouse leader.

Lynn, a 2008 first-round draft pick by St. Louis, seemed to be highly thought of -- for about a year -- when Shelby Miller was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round, completely over-shadowing Lynn.

Miller was the flashier guy who carried the laurels -- and the burdens -- of being the Redbirds' top prospect. Lynn was a less glamorous but more steady climber through the St. Louis farm system.

While the Cardinals front office folks may have been high on Lynn, fans certainly favored Miller and often offered up the latter in every imaginary trade they could think of. Lynn, no matter how many games he won, was mocked as a guy who was lucky as opposed to good. Meanwhile, the derisive social media hashtag "Lynning" was created in connection with the claim that Lynn, no matter how well he pitched in a game, was bound to have one lousy inning to ruin the day for the Cardinals.

I'm not sure if Lynn could hear the complaining. But while fans were criticizing him, he took his first off-season as a starter seriously, shedding 40 pounds. It was an eye-opening amount of dedication for a young player.

Meanwhile, Miller seemed to take one step forward and two steps back, refusing from the time he was in the minors until has last season in St. Louis to incorporate secondary pitches to his arsenal on a consistent basis. Miller, in short, minimized his talents with his hard-headedness. Lynn did just the opposite. He did everything his coaches asked him to do in a never-ending quest to get better.

I still hear folks complain that Lynn is "only a fastball pitcher" although, if people pay attention, they can see the craftiness he uses to keep hitters off balance. Lynn throws a cutter, a rising fastball and a sinker. It's true. Technically, those are all fastballs. But there is enough difference in the pitches to drive hitters nuts. Especially because it is much more difficult to tell the difference between a cutter and a sinker coming out of a pitchers hand than a fastball and a slider or curve.

If his career record of 50-29 with a 3.43 ERA isn't enough to convince nay sayers that Lynn has arrived, he seems to have really embraced being a Cardinals player off the field.

It was noticeable during the opening day ceremonies Monday that Lynn is both in tune with what's going on around him and that he's a rock for his teammates. 

First, it was impressive the way he took off his cap and sincerely shook the hands of the Cardinals Hall of Famers, ending with a hug for his former skipper Tony La Russa, the guy who gave him his first shot in the big leagues. Later, Lynn gave Carlos Martinez, a reassuring pat on the back during an emotional tribute to Martinez's best friend, the late Oscar Taveras.

During the post game interview Wednesday night, Lynn commented that he was fortunate and thankful to be a member of the Cardinals. 

He's certainly hitting all the right notes with both his words and his actions.

If the Cardinals have had a weakness the last couple of years it's been that they haven't had a real number two starting pitcher since Chris Carpenter retired and left Adam Wainwright without his co-ace.

Sure, the club had a lot of depth. But it didn't have a guy who could be counted on to be the stopper in an important game. Even with the addition of veteran John Lackey and the emergence of young phenom Michael Wacha, it seems obvious that Lynn is currently second fiddle to only Wainwright on this pitcing staff.

Good for him... And good for us.