Cardinals Find Lynn-chpin

Prior to the start of the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals activated starter-turned-reliever Lance Lynn from the 60-day disabled list (strained left oblique) and added him to the active roster. The 24-year-old last appeared in a game on August 9th before taking the mound in game 1 of the NLCS. Since, he has faced nine batters in the series, allowing just one hit.

Lynn made his major-league debut as a starter in early June. He took two turns through the rotation before being returned to Triple-A. He was recalled later in the month and used as a relief pitcher. Over the next six weeks, he made 16 appearances out of the Cardinals’ pen before straining his oblique.

Working almost exclusively as a starter, Lynn struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings in his career as a minor leaguer. His K-rate spiked n middle relief as he struck out 34% of his opponents; a K/9 of 11.84. While striking out better than a batter per inning, he maintained a sub 3.0 BB/9 and manageable home run rate. In 24.2 innings of work as a reliever, he earned a 2.45 FIP with an even better 2.21 xFIP.

When Lynn was not racking up strikeouts, he was inducing groundballs. Getting great velocity separation from his fastball (93.2 mph) and his curveball (78.6), he generated a 57% groundball rate. The breaking ball in particular was an excellent source of grounders when put in play.

Because he missed time late in the season, Lynn’s arm should be fresher than most pitchers at this point of the year. He threw 164 innings in 2009, but just recently crossed the 110-inning threshold for 2011. Since he spent most of the season as a starter, his arm is also trained to go multiple innings at a time. He threw more than one inning in eight of his 16 regular-season appearances out of the bullpen.

Lynn has yet to register a strikeout in any of his three postseason appearances; however, his skill-set and lack of platoon split has allowed Tony LaRussa to use him as needed and not dictated strictly by individual matchup.

Although he threw just one pitch in game 2, Lynn walked away as the winning pitcher for St. Louis. Trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Milwaukee Brewers loaded the bases for Rickie Weeks with one out. LaRussa summoned Lynn from the bullpen in hopes of killing Milwaukee’s momentum with a double play. Lynn’s only pitch of the game was an 80 mph curveball located low and away. Weeks rolled over on the breaking ball, starting an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

In game 3, Lynn was asked to do a little more work. With the Cardinals clutching to a 4-3 lead, he entered the game in the seventh inning. In a show of his platoon neutrality, he put down the left-handed Nyjer Morgan and the right-handed Corey Hart to begin the inning. He ended the frame by retiring lefty Mark Kotsay before making quick work of right-handed masher Ryan Braun to start the eighth inning.

In 2006, the Cardinals turned a young starter into a bullpen weapon en route to a World Series Championship. Lynn may not be the next Adam Wainwright, but he is doing his best to provide the same spark as a reliever. Although the process in which they are being used is different, everyone around the St. Louis organization hopes the result is the same.

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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and Follow on twitter @TRancel

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