MILWAUKEE Mike Matheny held out hope as long as he could that pitcher Chris Carpenter would be healthy enough to return to the St. Louis rotation by Opening Day.
When it became clear during spring training that Carpenter would miss extended time into the regular season, Matheny, the Cardinals manager, had no choice but to call for a backup plan.
As backup plans go, he can do a lot worse than Lance Lynn.
Lynn made his first start of the season Sunday and stymied the Milwaukee Brewers, as St. Louis rolled to a 9-3 victory in the rubber match of a three-game series at Miller Park. Lynn lasted 6 23 innings and allowed one run on two hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Considering that Lynn entered spring camp expecting to be a reliever and had started just two major league games, his performance was all the more impressive.
"He's just tough," Matheny said. "He's tough mentally. He's tough physically. He's a workhorse. He goes out there and he's got the arm and the body that can take that kind of heavy workload. That's going to play good for him in the future. You just never know what you're going to get that first outing."
What the Cardinals got was a gem of an outing from Lynn against a Brewers lineup that lacked pop for the second time in three games. And more performances like the one on Sunday could spell trouble for the rest of the National League Central because St. Louis (3-1), the defending World Series champion, hasn't skipped a beat in 2012 without one of its go-to pitchers.
Carpenter, a stalwart in the Cardinals rotation since 2004 and a former Cy Young Award winner, has been sidelined this season with a nerve ailment in his throwing shoulder. He hasn't faced live hitters since throwing batting practice March 3.
Lynn, meanwhile, had appeared in only 18 major league games during the regular season, with 16 coming in relief. But he also pitched under the toughest of circumstances out of the bullpen last season, making 10 postseason appearances for the Cardinals on the way to a World Series title. Five of those games came against the Brewers in the NLCS, when he didn't allow a run in 5-13 innings pitched.
In other words, an early-season start against these same Brewers hardly fazed him.
"I've started my whole life," Lynn said. "Relieving was fun and I enjoyed it because I got to pitch in a lot of bi