ST. LOUIS Lance Lynn was maybe the most surprising name on the list when the National League All-Star team was announced last Sunday. He did his best to prove himself a deserving candidate Thursday night.
Coming off the three worst starts of his career that raised his ERA by more than a run, Lynn's first start since being voted to the National League squad by his peers went much better.
Lynn tossed six shutout innings on a steamy and muggy night at Busch Stadium to pick up his 11th win of the year in a 6-2 Cardinals rout of the Colorado Rockies.
"I think he started off so strong that he knew there were going to be some trials and he's answering them well," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He came back today and I thought the ball was jumping out of his hand well. I thought he looked like his stuff was good as any day he's had this season. It's nice for his confidence sake just to get back on a positive note."
The 25-year-old Lynn was 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA on June 13 and had given up two earned runs or less in 10 of his 13 starts. It was probable, if not almost a guarantee, that he would be headed to his first All-Star Game.
But then came an unforgettable stretch that started in Detroit on June 19 when he allowed a season-worst five earned runs and nine hits in five innings. His next start was even worse, giving up a new season-high six earned runs on nine hits in 5 13 innings in Kansas City.
And the stretch reached three games on June 30, when he allowed six earned runs in five innings in a 7-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. His ERA went from 2.42 to 3.62 in a span of 11 days and his All-Star chances figured to be almost obsolete.
But the National League players voted for the All-Star team prior to Lynn's rough outings in Kansas City and Pittsburgh and with his numbers still looking impressive at the time, he was the fifth and final pitcher they voted to the N.L. squad.
Some chastised the player's vote, wondering how they could vote for Lynn and snub pitchers such as Johnny Cueto, Zack Grienke, James McDonald, A.J. Burnett, Chris Capuano and even Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse. All are having strong seasons and all could probably make an argument they deserved the spot over Lynn.
And it again started out rough for Lynn as he walked two of the first three batters he faced and found himself in early trouble. But he got out of the jam unscathed and pitched around a pair of singles in the second inning before returning to his previously dominant form.
The big right-hander struck out five of eight batters during a stretch from the second to fourth innings and finished with seven strikeouts for the game, leaving with no runs and just four hits and the Cardinals up 6-0.
"I felt really good the last couple outings but I was just off a little bit mechanically," Lynn said. "Tonight what we've been working on finally started showing in the game and the ball started coming out where I was hitting my spots where before I was leaving the ball out over.
"After the first two innings I finally got back to where I felt comfortable and felt like the ball was coming out like it used to, so that was a good feeling."
The mechanical adjustment Lynn referenced came after the second inning, when the coaches in the dugout noticed that his arm slot was dropping a little bit too low. He came more over the top the rest of the game, and the results quickly followed.
"Sometimes your slot changes without you really knowing," Matheny said. "And I think he got down underneath it a little bit and was pushing it out of the zone and he couldn't figure out why and made the adjustment to get on top and that's when those balls start getting put in play. You've got more depth on your sink and more bite on your breaking balls. He did a nice job making that in game adjustment. Not many guys could do that."
In addition to the lower arm slot, some of Lynn's recent struggles could possibly be traced to the 97 grueling innings he already piled up entering Thursday after throwing just 120 between Memphis and the Cardinals last year.
Whatever the reasons, Lynn risked entering the All-Star break on a negative note should he have not pitched well Thursday. And with the Cardinals looking to acquire a starter before the trading deadline, Lynn figures to be the most obvious candidate to move back to the bullpen.
But not on Thursday night. Wanting to show that he deserved his selection to Tuesday's All-Star Game, Lynn did just that. And he'll take an impressive 11 wins with him to Kansas City, whether some think he should be there or not.
"I was confident going into tonight." Lynn said. "I would have felt fine going into the break no matter what. I felt like I've thrown the ball just fine but it's one of those things where bad luck happens. Tonight was a good feeling going into the break of course, but we're still working and it's going to be a process the rest of the year."