Lance Lynn Back In, At Least For Now

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The Cardinals needed someone to start today in place of the injured Jake Westbrook, who is currently out with a bit of an oblique thing. (That's a technical term, by the way. I apologize for using complicated jargon, but there's really no other way of putting it, unfortunately.) So Mike Matheny and Company are tapping Lance Lynn to take the start. 

Lynn is certainly not a bad choice; for the first half of the season, Lynn was one of the best starters in the National League. He has all the weapons one could ask for from a starting pitcher. I think long term Lance Lynn is definitely one of the pitchers we're going to see the Cardinals lean on to help anchor a rotation transitioning away from the Chris Carpenter-led staffs of the past near-decade. 

But today? Eh...I'm very on the fence about Lynn being the best choice to take this one particular start. And if I'm being honest, I'm only still on the fence because I happened to get my jeans caught when I was trying to get down onto the side that would have preferred someone else. 

Here's the thing about Lance Lynn: he just hasn't been all the good here lately. We all know this, of course; it's the reason he was moved to the bullpen rather than continuing to start games. If Lynn had stayed on track the second half of the season the way he was prior to the All-Star break, Joe Kelly would currently be the young hotshot fireballer in the bullpen instead of Trevor Rosenthal. 

It was never meant to be a permanent demotion for Lynn; the guy is a starting pitcher in the long run. But considering the innings jump from last season to this year, there is some real concern he may have hit the wall somewhere along the way to darkhorse Cy Young candidacy. So he was bumped to relief, both to try and ease the innings load and to allow for more judicious allocation of time, hopefully allowing him to right some mechanical issues. 

And therein lies my problem with Lynn making this start: he hasn't really been in the 'pen long enough to have shown much positive progress. Nor, honestly, has he gotten a ton of rest. He's made 6 appearances since being moved to relief, in just over two weeks, and has thrown 7.0 total innings of 6.43 ERA ball. Not exactly sterling results. Admittedly, he's looked pretty good the last couple times out, but still, I would have preferred to see a bit more in the way of a positive trend before tossing Lynn back out on the mound with the weight of a starting assignment on his shoulders. 

Personally, I was hoping to see Shelby Miller take the start. Miller and Rosenthal were the leading candidates besides Lynn, with some small consideration being given to the possibility of Chris Carpenter making his 2012 debut. I'm glad the Cards decided not to try and rush Carpenter back to fill in for one start; his availability for next season is a very iffy subject, and I would prefer the team take all possible care in his attempt to pitch this year. 

As for Miller or Rosenthal, both have pitched in relief in the big leagues, and both are capable of starting. The difference for me is the amount of time Rosenthal has spent in the 'pen this year; he's thrown relief exclusively for the Cardinals since being called up earlier this year. Shelby has made just two appearances, and his three inning salvage job for Jaime Garcia the other night would never have happened had the Cards meant to use him in starting duty tonight in Los Angeles

In the end, my biggest issue with Lynn taking the start tonight is this: it currently appears the Cardinals are only going to need the one spot start in place of Westbrook. His oblique injury is of the decidedly non-awful variety, meaning the prognosis is to miss him only once through the rotation. Given that whatever pitcher makes the start is likely going right back to the bullpen anyway, I would have preferred to see Lynn not switch back and forth between roles again while trying to get himself back on track. 

If the Redbirds were reasonably sure they were going to need a starter to fill in for Westbrook the rest of the season, I wouldn't have minded nearly so much for Lynn to pull the assignment. He has the most experience starting in the big leagues, and is likely the most dependable choice the rest of the way. But for one game? I would have likely to see Lynn stay right where he is for the moment, working his way toward whatever productive role he might be able to have in any postseason berth the Cards might earn, and have a pitcher who has been starting all season, showing positive trends of late, and not trying to correct mechanical flaws (and possibly rest a tired arm), make the start instead. There's a bit of opportunity cost here; seeing what Shelby could do in a starting assignment might have been very useful. But much more than that, I'm concerned whatever progress Lynn has made back toward his top form could end up in jeopardy tonight because the coaching staff is afraid to trust a rookie. 

I understand the concerns about throwing a rookie into such a huge start against a team the Cardinals are directly competing against. But starting Lance Lynn only feels marginally less risky to me, honestly; the potential payoff can't be much higher, but if Lynn is set back any at all the downside for the rest of the season could be huge. 

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