Tomorrow the Astros send Jordan Lyles to the mound as they try to salvage the finale of a three game series against the Cubs. But is the organization making the right moves with the highly touted pitcher?
Lyles is no stranger to Wrigley Field, having made his big league debut there back on May 31. That night the twenty-year-old Astro pitched into the eighth inning before needing help from the bullpen. Since then Lyles has been a fixture in the Astros rotation. However, the next seven starts were not as successful. In his most recent start, Monday against Washington, the youngster came up with one of the best performances all season by a Houston starter. But the usual lack of run support from the anemic Astros offense led to yet another loss, dropping the rookie’s record to 0-5. Lyles showed pinpoint control of all of his pitches in the contest. He seemed to start every hitter with an 0-2 count. The economic use of his pitches enabled him to work into the ninth inning. The outstanding performance by Lyles proves he is ready for the big leagues. But is the losing taking a toll? If so it was not very apparent in Lyles’ post-game interview. There was a certain amount of frustration, but nothing more than one would expect after a tough loss. Still, at such a young age certain precautionary measures need to be taken. The Astros have already announced that Lyles will be shut down when his innings count reaches 170. But is that really enough? We all know what happened to Stephen Strasburg last season, and he only worked 123 innings. Cincinnati brought Mike Leake straight to the big leagues last year, bypassing the minors completely. Leake was very effective early in the season but fizzled down the stretch. Then came the “shoplifting” incident and subsequent demotion to AAA. Perhaps a little humility did him well. Leake has been outstanding since returning from the minors.
At the other end of the spectrum is Johan Santana. Early in his career the Minnesota Twins handled the lefty with extreme caution. Santana’s innings count was slowly increased, reaching 158 in his fourth season. Then the Twins took off their kid gloves and turned him loose, resulting in Cy Young Awards in seasons five and seven. Certainly every case is unique. What works for one player may not work for another. Vida Blue came to the big leagues at age 19 and was an MVP at age 21. Jeremy Bonderman went 6-19 as a twenty-year-old for Detroit. Eight years later his career is threatened due to injuries. I just hope the Astros are taking the human element into account and not viewing Lyles strictly as a commodity. Houston can lose 100 games this season with or without him. Lyles has a promising career ahead of him. Let’s hope the Astros think long and hard when weighing their options with the youngster.