Is Tyler Lyons the Man for Cardinals’ Fifth Starter Spot?


John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

With starting pitcher Joe Kelly having hit the disabled list Thursday with a hamstring injury, the St. Louis Cardinals have a vacant spot in their rotation. Manager Mike Matheny has already stated that reliever Carlos Martinez, who competed with Kelly for a rotation spot in spring training, will not assume the position, but the Cardinals have yet to definitively announce who Kelly’s replacement will be.

Since he would be on turn for Kelly’s next scheduled start, the most likely possibility to receive the promotion would be 26-year-old left-hander Tyler Lyons, who made eight starts while pitching in 12 games total for the big-league club in 2013. In contrast with Martinez, Lyons’ velocity is not spectacular, peaking in the low-to-mid 90s, and his strikeout numbers are not fantastic, but Lyons has still shown in the past that he can give the team a chance to win.

Lyons gave up only one earned run over seven innings in each of his first two big-league starts in 2013. Unfortunately, he went on to give up at least four earned runs in each of his four starts in the month of June, and he was consequentially demoted before the end of the month. He got rocked on multiple occasions during spring training this year, but he has had some good moments in Triple-A thus far. He’s had two starts in which he has only given up one earned run, which have gone for lengths of six and seven innings, respectively. Sandwiched in between those two starts, however, was a down outing in which Lyons gave up five earned runs in six innings. Despite the increase in his ERA, though, Lyons did pick up the win and record a season-high eight strikeouts.

Though he is not a flawless option, Lyons is by far the most likely starter to be recalled. He is the only starting pitcher on the 40-man roster, meaning that he is the only starter the team can recall without having to designate another player for assignment. In addition, he is the only starter in the Cardinals’ system with prior major-league experience, a helpful trait considering that whoever ends up filling the role will not have much time to settle in if Kelly only misses a few starts. And overall, he’s just the most attractive option. Former third-rounder Tim Cooney has been solid so far, but he has just three starts at the Triple-A level. Undersized right-hander Boone Whiting has also gotten off to a hot start, but he’s considered more of an organizational pitcher who has nowhere near the natural ability of Lyons.

The Cardinals are certainly hoping that Kelly only misses the minimum amount of starts, but if Lyons can pitch like he did after he was first called up last year, maybe the team won’t miss a beat.