FLORENCE, S.C. – When Jordan Lyles left Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati after four innings, everyone associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates likely held their collective breaths.
It’s been that kind of season for the Buccos, who have 12 players on the current Injured List, including two starting pitchers.
“As a team, I don’t think I’ve seen this many on one roster before,” said Lyles, who is in his ninth year in the majors. “What’s happened this year for us has definitely been unusual. We’ve been snake-bitten and have the injury bug following us for sure.”
That included the former Hartsville High standout at the start of the year when he dealt with tightness in his side. But since then, he’s been one of the few uninjured players prior to Tuesday.
“My hamstring kind of cramped up on me last outing, but we’ve been treating it and I should be able to go on Sunday on normal days’ rest,” Lyles said. “I won’t miss any time.”
That’s good news on multiple fronts for the Pirates, who not only need him to bolster an already thin starting staff, but the right-hander has arguably been Pittsburgh’s top pitcher this season.
Lyles was 5-2 entering Sunday’s matchup against Milwaukee and his team was 8-2 in games in which he started. His ERA was 3.09 and he had 56 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings pitched.
He had arguably his best outing of the year May 17 against his former team, San Diego. Lyles went seven innings and allowed one run on five hits with one walk and a career-high 12 strikeouts.
Not too shabby for someone who was penciled in as the Bucs’ fifth starter when the season began.
“The season got off on the right foot with some quality outings,” Lyles said. “The last two outings haven’t been great, but I’m looking forward to getting back on track Sunday.
“But overall, yea I’m definitely pleased with how the season’s started and I just look forward to continuing that and getting back to having quality outings and going deep into games – six, seven-plus innings.”
On Sunday, however, Lyles was the losing pitcher against Milwaukee after going six innings while giving up eight hits and four earned runs. He did, however, strike out five batters, compared to walking one as his record dropped to 5-3. His other stats, after Sunday's loss changed to a 3.38 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings pitched.
Lyles can point to two major changes he made at the tail end of last year that have provided big dividends thus far.
“The (curveball) is probably what I can point my finger at in terms of usage-wise, percentage-wise,” Lyles said. “That’s up a couple ticks. I used to throw a cut fastball, and I kind of got rid of that, and then I kind of got rid of my sinker and started using more four-seam fastballs.
“I’m probably 97-98% four-seam fastballs this season.”
The previous secondary pitches are used very sparingly if at all anymore, he said, and the curveball-fastball combination is something he’s gotten extremely comfortable with as the year has progressed.
“I’m using my too best pitches more often – it’s as simple as that,” Lyles said. “I find myself getting back into counts when I’m behind with my curveball. I can say in my past I would have settled for a sinker down and away.
“I’m not giving in as much anymore and I’m sticking to my strengths.”