The St. Louis Cardinals are once again forced into a situation of preparing a traditional non-starter for a starting role due to injury. This time the emergency starter role falls squarely on the shoulders of Lance Lynn due to a bulging disc in staff ace Chris Carpenter’s neck. Lynn went into Spring Training with a focus on being a reliever. Most Cardinal fans in the know had him penciled in as Jason Motte’s set up man in the eighth inning.
Manager Mike Matheny has referred to the switch from a bullpen mentality for young pitcher Lance Lynn as “mental gymnastics”. This is not unfamiliar territory for Lynn who has been a starting pitcher throughout his minor league career. I can only imagine the issues it is causing his mind set and warm up procedures to be geared for relief and now switching to starter again.
Lynn has some big shoes to fill, but not as big as one may think. Matheny and his staff seem to be taking the right approach to this situation. There is no way Lance Lynn can replace Chris Carpenter and with the pitching staff that is in place he doesn’t have to. If this injury lingers on for Carpenter and he misses some starts the Cardinals just need quality innings from Lynn not a consistent Cy Young type performance (although no one would complain if that would happen). What we all need to remember is that while Lynn appears to have a role on this team, he is still young and inexperienced enough that he is fighting for a spot on this team during Spring Training. This is something that is not lost on this young man.
Moving Lynn to this role is an insurance policy. I like to think it’s like buying life insurance. It’s really nice to have but you hope to heck you don’t have to use it. Lynn is the best option we have barring a phone call to Roy Oswalt’s agent (have I said that I would love to see him in a Cardinal uniform?). I feel that he is a better option than Kyle McClellan and while I am a Shelby Miller fan, I don’t think this is the time to bring him up just yet. The club has the luxury of waiting to see how things shake out with Carp and how Lynn performs if need be. Then the organization has many options about how to proceed should Carpenter’s injury drag on and force him to miss significant time and starts.
The Cardinals are in a spot that is not comfortable. What looked to be an extremely promising pitching rotation could be in danger for at least the short term future. The Cardinals training staff has been historically cautious when dealing with injuries. I can fully appreciate this. I would much rather have people healthy for a post season run than repeatedly injure themselves for games that ultimately don’t matter early in the season. With that being said, they have to win enough to get to the postseason.
Lynn threw three scoreless yesterday against the Houston Astros. He looked sharp and seemed to settle into the starting role without any apparent issues. Lynn stated that he still needed to work on his warm up routine to better prepare. He felt uncomfortable with how much time he had left after warming up and before the game started. This is part of that change in preparation and the mental gymnastics Matheny was referring to. These are completely different animals. In order to fall into that role effectively it will take some time. It looks like he is going to get that opportunity during the remainder of Spring Training or until Carp is healthy.
Lynn has been extremely durable throughout his career and that could be extremely beneficial in whatever role he finally lands in. I am hopefully that Matheny and his staff will be patient, supportive, and understanding during this switch in mental philosophies. I would hate to see a young pitcher ruined due to an unfortunate circumstance. All in all I think Lynn will make a great understudy for Carpenter and a useful substitution if necessary for the short term.