Lance Lynn likes his fastball.
He likes it a lot.
Lynn is in the midst of his seventh MLB season, and he’s never thrown it less than 70.4 percent of the time. In fact, in his final two years with the St. Louis Cardinals — a team he’s slated to face at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon — that usage rocketed over 80 percent.
Those two years were 2015 and 2017, and you can be forgiven if you wonder where 2016 went.
But like most pitchers of this current era predicated on velocity and strikeouts, Lynn missed that year with Tommy John surgery. Yes, even a pitcher who throws mostly fastballs can fall prey to the surgery that is now as foolproof as ever, a procedure was considered an MLB widowmaker just a little over 40 years ago.
Some pitchers use that time off to reflect. Some use it to plan how they’ll alter their repertoire to avoid a recurrence of the issue.
“Nah,” Lynn said about if he ever thought about changing things up post-TJ. “I mean, I usually just go with what I have that day. I’ve never really thought about changing or trying to do something different.”
He answered the question almost before it was finished, and with the same conviction he answered every previous and subsequent question.
Lynn can be hard to read. It didn’t come up, but he’s probably good at poker. For a newcomer, it’s hard to tell if he’s amused or annoyed by the line of questions.
That’s part of the charm of Lynn, who turned 31 while the Twins were on the road. At any given time, his smile might be one of warmth or one of incredulity.
But you really can’t be sure which.
While people lamented the awful weather of the early season, Lynn merely shrugged it off prior to Monday’s makeup game against the Seattle Mariners. He was actually slated to start that game — April 8, a Sunday — before a mix of snow and slush began what was an early-season flurry of days off and on with little degree of consistency between the two.
“No,” Lynn said when asked if he was worried he was over his head weather-wise in early April. “It’s Minnesota. You know it’s supposed to be cold. It was probably the worst it’s ever been, I think they were saying, at that time of year. But you weren’t expecting 80 and sunshine in April. If you were, you’ve got problems.”
On the day Lynn was supposed to start against the Mariners, a trail of young girls followed him into the clubhouse. Sundays are typically family days, and players are encouraged to bring their kids around.
They weren’t all Lynn’s, however.
“I’ve got one,” Lynn said, suggesting the other three belonged to reliever Zach Duke but had become chummy with his daughter. “She was on her spring break. She got to go to Minnesota on her spring break and deal with the snow, so she was pumped about it.”
I’m still not sure if he was kidding or serious about that last part.
Lynn’s residence is listed as Jupiter, Fla. in the media guide, for what it’s worth.
Duke said he enlisted the help of former teammates when deciding where to sign. Matt Belisle and Matt Capps both had good things to say about Minnesota, and heavily swayed him to make that decision.
Lynn picked Minnesota. Kind of.
“(It was) pretty much my own decision,” he said. “But when you only have one offer, you gotta take it.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t view Minnesota as a good place to be or anything, though it’s possible to read those comments that way, perhaps.
“I knew some of the players in the clubhouse,” he said. “I knew they had a good core and a good group of young guys that are starting to come into their own. So it seemed like a good chance to win this year.”
Minnesota is a few years and many miles from where Lynn grew up, and even more miles from where he went to college. That was in University, Miss. — or in layman’s terms, at Ole Miss.
Lynn was born in Indianapolis, graduated from Brownsburg High School in a town by the same name that’s just outside of the city, which has produced five MLB draft picks, including two others who made it to the big leagues — reliever Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart.
Barnhart is the current starting catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, while Storen last played in the big leagues in 2017, also for the Reds.
But Lynn had no interest staying near home, and wound up playing for the Rebels with future big leaguers Drew Pomeranz, Chris Coghlan, Zack Cozart and former Twin Alex Presley.
In fact, Lynn picked a school nearly 600 miles from home for his three years after the Seattle Mariners took him as a high school senior in the sixth round of the 2005 MLB Draft. Storen went two years later, and Barnhart two years after that.
“The further the better,” Lynn deadpanned about the distance between his home and college. Lynn didn’t have any ties in the area whatsoever.
Lynn actually got to compete against a former college teammate on the last road trip, taking on Cozart when the Twins were in town to play the Angels over the weekend. “It’s fun to play against old teammates,” Lynn said. “Especially when you were 18-21 years old and then you’re still playing at 30 years old at the highest level you can. It’s definitely exciting.”
The final year at Ole Miss wasn’t Lynn’s finest in his three years there — 4.52 ERA, 11.0 K/9, 1.35 WHIP — but that didn’t deter him from feeling he’d hear his name called quickly when the 2008 MLB Draft began.
In fact, he felt he’d go sooner than where he did, which was pick No. 39 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the supplemental first round. He was taken with a draft pick awarded to the Cardinals after they lost closer Troy Percival in free agency the year before.
That turned out to be a good move for the Cardinals. Percival — who was 38 — pitched just two more years with a 4.89 ERA, 7.1 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9 in just 57 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays before he retired.
Lynn, on the other hand, rewarded the Cardinals with a 72-47 record in six years with a 3.38 ERA (3.64 FIP) and nearly a strikeout per inning.
But back to the draft for a second.
St. Louis wasn’t some sort of foregone destination for Lynn. Far from it.
“I heard from (St. Louis) literally five minutes before they took me, if that,” he said. “I thought I was going to go higher than I did. A lot of position players jumped up — if I remember correctly — who weren’t supposed to go as high as they did. That caused some pitchers to drop, and that’s part of it. I found myself in a good spot, and was able to make it to the big leagues pretty quick and have some success.”
That’s a good landing spot for anyone, but especially for pitchers. But whether it be by taking pitchers with high picks or simply acquiring them and developing them, St. Louis has consistently churned out terrific pitching, and when a player departed or got hurt, another seemed to immediately pop up in their place.
When Adam Wainwright (a first-round pick, though not by the Cardinals) went down with an elbow injury in 2011, Lynn was a rookie who helped pick up the slack.
That team also won the World Series.
But in addition to Lynn, Jaime Garcia (24 years old) also stepped up that year to help replace Wainwright. In recent years, other pitchers who’ve popped up for the Cardinals have been Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and Joe Kelly.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a good organization to come up in,” Lynn said. “At the time I was drafted, they were doing a lot of good things in the minor leagues to help themselves get to where we were at the big league level with guys coming up.
Then Lynn paused for a second, and brought up a really good point that can be easily overlooked.
“But the other thing about development is that we were really good players,” Lynn said. “I mean, you’re a big leaguer or you aren’t. The development will help you stay there, or make you where you can be productive a long time. But we had guys who were big-league caliber players just on who they were. So we just went and played and didn’t pay attention to anything else.”
Lynn doesn’t really come across as a sentimental guy, but he did enjoy the trip back to St. Louis on the last road trip — even though it was very short.
“I mean it is what it is,” he said. “It’s fun to go back and see some people. It’s fun to go back and see all the security staff and everybody who runs how to get into the ballpark and all that, and people I’ve seen for a lot of years and say hi to old friends.”
Those good vibes stop as soon as he gets the baseball, which is all he really wants to do.
“But when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter where you’ve played or what you’ve done before. It’s about what you’re doing next, in your next outing or whatever it might be.”
Maybe Lynn is right, and maybe it won’t be a big deal. But maybe Lynn will come out a bit charged up to take on the Cardinals for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.
After all, he’ll be opposed by Miles Mikolas, who signed with the Cardinals in the offseason while Lynn’s market withered in the free agent wind.
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