Appreciating Tyler Lyons

Sometimes, a good organizational soldier like Tyler Lyons has a big moment in the spotlight. So it was in Pittsburgh Wednesday evening.

No, this is not some bandwagon article based on left-handed pitcher Tyler Lyons allowing no runs on four hits, no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of the National League Central Division-clinching game for the St. Louis Cardinals in Pittsburgh Wednesday evening.

Lyons

I have been thinking about writing this article for some time, but will admit that the evening’s play affected my timing. Jason Heyward’s third-inning grand slam, which gave Lyons a six-run lead and anchored his masterful performance on a very big stage, immediately moved this to the top of my priority list.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to make Lyons into something he is not.

This may turn out to be the highlight of the 27-year-old’s Major League career. The only reason he is likely pitching at all at this point of the schedule is due to the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Carlos Martinez last week.

Lyons has tried for the last three years to stick with St. Louis, but hasn’t yet been able to do it. He has averaged 13 MLB appearances per season since 2013, with half of them starts. Prior to Wednesday, Lyons struggled to a career 4-8 record with a 5.56 ERA in his 19 starts. His lifetime ERA in relief is a tidy 1.37.

In other words, Lyons hasn’t earned a regular rotation spot in St. Louis, but serves as a ready fill-in, always healthy and ready to contribute.

It was thought before the season that fellow lefty Marco Gonzales would be St. Louis’ defacto seventh starter instead of Lyons. (I say seventh since Adam Wainwright was still healthy then.) But Wainwright went down, then Gonzales hurt his shoulder and had such a lost season that he was not even promoted in September. Tim Cooney, who passed Lyons in the rotation pecking order during the season, was knocked out for the year with appendicitis. Finally, Martinez was finished early and Lyons became the number five – for one start, at least.

Even with his big performance in Pittsburgh, Lyons’ best hope to pitch again in 2015 is to make the Cardinals’ post-season roster as a long reliever. He doesn’t seem likely to be among the top four starters, even with Michael Wacha’s recent struggles. (For the record, The Cardinal Nation members know that I predicted Lyons’ inclusion on the NLDS roster back on September 26th.)

But the real reason for this article is to show respect for a true organizational soldier. Not every player can stick in the majors; far fewer can become a star.

Yet any player can earn his moment in the spotlight, as did Lyons Wednesday night.

Perhaps in another system, one not so rich in young pitching like the Cardinals, he would have at least received a longer trial in the majors by now.

Instead, Lyons has performed admirably as the long-time anchor of the Cardinals Triple-A rotation at Memphis. In four seasons starting for the Redbirds, Lyons has averaged 15 starts per year with a career Triple-A record of 28-18 with a 3.75 ERA. In the Pacific Coast League, Lyons has fanned 8.5 batters per nine innings and walked just 1.7 per nine for a sterling strikeout to walk ratio of 5.1.

Much of it occurred between bouncing back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis, starting and relieving in odd and irregular intervals.

I believe Lyons has exhausted his minor league options, meaning if he doesn’t make the big league roster to start 2016, he could end up pitching in another organization. It would be nothing against Lyons, but instead a reflection of the Cardinals’ ongoing pitching wealth.

Forget the future, though. Right now, let’s appreciate Tyler Lyons for his accomplishments.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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