After advice from an ace, Lynn returns to form
Carpenter helps get young righty on track after midseason struggles
WASHINGTON -- The August conversations came in private, initiated by the one whose shoes had, just months earlier, first been filled by the other.
For much of the season, Chris Carpenter had little to do but watch. A nerve injury in his upper back had relegated him to spectator, a task he took as a job. He remained vocal and active and perceptive.
In the span of only a few months, Carpenter had watched Lance Lynn rise from projected setup man to fill-in starter to All-Star pitcher. By August, he also eyed an unraveling. As he watched Lynn, Carpenter saw a pitcher stepping back from his strengths in an attempt to expose hitters' weakness.
While pure in intent, the execution was flawed. Lynn's results suffered enough that the Cardinals yanked the right-hander from the rotation.
A pitcher who had collected his 13th win before the end of July hardly fared better in a reduced relief role, either. Lynn became overly emotional, unhesitant to display disgust and frustration to a degree where it bordered showing up opponents and umpires.
Carpenter, having watched the transformation up close, pulled Lynn aside. His message was succinct, yet also direct.
"Be yourself," Carpenter's instructions began. "Learn from your mistakes. You're going to screw up. People are going to look at you funny, but be yourself. Because you can't go out there and pitch like somebody that you're not."
The 25-year-old Lynn took Carpenter's advice to heart, and he applied it with success. His appearances out of the 'pen became sharper. That earned Lynn the opportunity to move back into the rotation, too, where he reeled off four straight wins in as many starts to close the season.
Aside from the delivery adjustment he made -- Lynn no longer begins with an over-the-head motion -- he resembled the first-half pitcher that had exceeded all initial expectations in his ability to help stabilize the Cardinals' rotation.
"It's easy when everything is going well to kind of ride it out," Lynn said on Tuesday, a day after he earned the Game 2 win with three critical innings of relief as the Cardinals topped the Nationals, 12-4. "When you go through the tough times, that's when you really learn who you are and what you're all about. It's a good thing to know that I was able to go through those times and come out on the other side and fix it.
"Carp told me to go back to being myself against hitters, and it worked out."
Lynn's evolution over the past 12 months has been drastic. He emerged as one of Tony La Russa's most dependable bullpen arms during the 2011 postseason, setting himself up to be a key late-inning piece in the 'pen again this year. Plans changed early in Spring Training, however, when the Cardinals tapped Lynn to replace Carpenter in the rotation.
He yo-yoed between the bullpen and rotation during the season's final two months and shifted back to the 'pen upon the start of the postseason. With Carpenter back, the Cardinals had the chance to fortify their relief corps by adding an 18-game winner.
|"When they call your name, you go pitch, whenever it is. If I keep doing that, good things will happen."|
|-- Lance Lynn|
"If I can show them I can do more things, maybe they'll keep me around longer," Lynn said of the versatility. "That's what it's all about. When they call your name, you go pitch, whenever it is. If I keep doing that, good things will happen."
They did. Lynn helped close the sixth inning during the Wild Card game against Atlanta, and again in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He was summoned in an emergency spot in Game 2 and threw 50 pitches in long relief.
Lynn's role could soon be shifting again, too. With Jaime Garcia now out with a left shoulder injury, Lynn could slide back into the rotation should the club advance another round. In the meantime, the Cardinals intend to also keep him available out of the 'pen.
"He's tough minded," manager Mike Matheny said. "Lance stepped up in big fashion and was able to really take advantage of that opportunity, because we needed him badly [on Monday]."
Lynn considers himself a renewed pitcher these days, one improved through the focused conversations he had with his teammate, a long-time ace. He also admits, however, to still being a work-in-progress.
The emotions that got the best of him at times this season haven't entirely subsided; they likely never will, either, as Lynn admits he has been an outwardly emotional pitcher since his youth. The focus, then, isn't so much in taking away what fuels his competitiveness as it is learning when and how to harness the outward reaction.
"I try to keep it within," Lynn said. "But you also have to be who you are. I try to be who I am without showing everybody else that I'm upset -- save it for the dugout or underneath [in the tunnel]. That's what I've been trying to do -- not show it on the field too much."
Few see it as a coincidence, too, that, since identifying the emotional, mechanical and philosophical problems Lynn was dealing with, the results have fallen back into place. After allowing 28 earned runs in 34 1/3 innings from July 27 to Sept. 7, Lynn has given up eight in 29 1/3 innings since.
"Everybody has to remember -- and I said this to a few of the guys -- that he's a 25-year-old kid," Carpenter said. "This is a hard game. This is his first full year. He goes from thinking he's going to be a reliever to starting and trying to step into my shoes in Spring Training and turning into an All-Star."
"I'm proud of him that he's come back and done what he's done, because it takes some edge, it takes some guts to do that," Carpenter added. "He's gone back out there with that edge, with that attitude and letting it fly. Because that's what he is."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.