Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 6/21/12
Just by looking at Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles' stats, one would think he is about the same pitcher that went 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 2012. After all, his numbers don't look that much different. He is 0-1 with a 5.04 ERA. His batting average against is .271 compared to .280 in 2011. Like 2011, he has given up more hits than innings pitched. But you have to have been watching Lyles to see that the 21-year-old is much more advanced as a pitcher than he was a season ago. There is one stat that may give an indication. He is getting hitters to put the ball on the ground far more than last season. He averages 1.43 ground ball outs to every fly ball out. That compares to only a 1.19 in 2011. Some of those ground balls have snuck through for base hits of course. But fly balls can often turn into home runs, something grounders can't. Lyles will never be a blow 'em away pitcher. His fast ball can't really reach 95 miles per hour unless the wind is blowing very hard from center field. But this season he has been two to three MPH quicker than last season. He has touched 94. He never threw with greater velocity than perhaps a rare 92 last year. That added velocity -- caused in part by coaching that has encouraged him to stand taller and come more over the top -- makes everything else he throws more effective. Lyles also says he is pitching with more confidence this year. There is far less nibbling and it shows. Jordan is trusting his stuff. That stuff was never considered number-one-starter stuff, but it has always been considered major-league-rotation stuff. In his start against Kansas City on Wednesday he looked like the pitcher the Astros have dreamed he could be. He pitched seven innings while throwing only 85 pitches and allowing just three hits. He allowed two earned runs, although the second was tainted by an error. Ten of the 21 outs during his stint were on the ground. Four more were strikeouts. He did not walk a batter. There is no reason to think the game was an aberration for the pitcher with the 5.04 ERA. His prior two starts had been begun well. He pitched four scoreless and uneventful innings in Chicago before an error opened the door for a collapse in the fifth. The same things happened in Texas. An error after one out opened the door. Prior to that, he had pitched four scoreless frames while scattering three hits. Make no mistake about it. Lyles is a pitcher that has to have his command to be effective. That is not pointing out any weakness since that statement applies to most of the pitchers in the major leagues. There just aren't that many hurlers who have the velocity to get by on blazers no matter where they are thrown. Lyles has shown the confidence in his stuff and command to give Astros fans some home. Remember he is only 21 years old and getting better. It is there for the eyes to see. Keep your eyes on Kelvin Herrera Since we don't see the Royals that much -- or at least haven't until the league change next year -- Kelvin Herrera was a surprise on Wednesday. I suggest we all remember the name because from what the Astros saw in that game he could be one of the best pitchers in the American League before long. Herrera is a righthanded fire-baller who can also throw other pitches. His fastball touched 100mph and was regularly at 98 against the Astros. But what was more amazing was that he had a two seam fastball that had so much movement it almost looked like a 90 mph screwball. He also showed a change that dropped out of sight. For the four batters he faced -- he struck them all out -- I don't think the Astros have faced a more dominating or impossible-to-hit pitcher this season. The Royals have been careful with his arm. Out of 79 minor league games prior to this season he had started only 23 and thrown just 220 innings. For those appearances he had an 18-7 record with an astounding 1.92 ERA. The batting average against was only .219 and he struck out just under one per inning. The future for Herrera who may be moved into the rotation at some point in his future is very bright. That is great news for the Royals and their fans. It may not be for their future American League foe here in Houston. Facing Herrera will not be fun.
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