MIAMI • After brilliant efforts in his first two big-league starts, lefthanded rookie Tyler Lyons has had increasingly diminshed returns in his last three outings for the Cardinals.
That probably will give manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist at least pause as to whether they will leave him in the rotation to face the power-hitting Texas Rangers next Friday in St. Louis, although Matheny said after Sunday’s 7-2 loss to the Miami Marlins it was “way too early” to make that kind of determination.
Lyons allowed just one run over seven innings in his first two starts, both victories, against San Diego and Kansas City. But, in successive losses to San Francisco, Cincinnati and Miami, he has given up 14 earned runs in 17 innings. He walked .125-hitting Miami pitcher Ricky Nolasco twice in succession, one of them setting up a two-run inning.
“You can’t walk the pitcher,” said Lyons.
But Lyons said that wasn’t the worst thing that happened.
“Giving up six runs was worse than that,” he said. “But walking Nolasco. ... that’s definitely not something that’s going to help you be successful.”
Four of the six runs Lyons allowed in 51/3 innings came with two outs. The other two came in the first inning and Lyons said, “I never really got in a groove for the rest of the day.”
Matheny said Lyons was “just inconsistent. When he was making his pitches, he was down in the (strike) zone and he got some good outs. But a couple of mistakes really cost him.”
Giancarlo Stanton, who had six hits in the series, doubled to set up the two runs in the first. Juan Pierre, who also had six hits, singled home two runs in the fourth. Former Cardinal Placido Polanco doubled in two more in the fifth.
Lyons seemed ineffective, at times, pitching from the stretch and Matheny thought that Lyons’ timing out of the stretch position wasn’t good, notably because the Marlins had some basestealers in the lineup.
“Sometimes that distracts,” said Matheny. “We’re trying to get him a little quicker (to the plate). But he also needs to be able to make pitches.”
Lyons allowed that the difference between when he was good and when he wasn’t lay in “executing pitches, especially with runners on base.”
Matheny delineated the big issue as Lyons’ inability to work ahead in the count in his last few games.
“His first start was kind of odd in that he threw all fastballs, with some changeups. But he was all down and almost always strike one,” said Matheny.
“The second start, he was a little mixed but controlled the count with all his pitches. He’s just in a tough spot where he’s trying to find a feel for anything that will get him ahead in the count,” said Matheny.
“When he goes to his fastball, he’s getting too much of the plate when he’s behind in the count.”
Lilliquist said he would like to see Lyons record more ground-ball outs. “First and foremost,” said Lilliquist, mindful that Lyons recorded only four of his 16 outs Sunday on ground balls.
“It didn’t help walking the pitcher,” Lilliquist said. “The more you pitch up here, the more (opponents) get a look at you and the more you’ve got to able to execute pitches. Mistakes got hit today.”
But the way Nolasco handled the Cardinals, Lyons would have had to pitch a premium game to win it.
Nolasco, with the help of right fielder Stanton, who saved a double with a leaping catch on a Matt Adams drive, limited the Cardinals, who rested Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, to one run and three hits over seven innings.
Both Cardinals stars pinch hit in the ninth when the Cardinals rallied for a run on Adams’ single, with Holliday taking strike three from reliever Steve Cishek with the bases loaded to end the game.
Matt Carpenter, who lined out twice against Nolasco, said, “(Nolasco) was highly effective. We did get some pitches to hit but when we did them hit hard, we hit them right at somebody.”
By winning two games in the three-game set, the Marlins, who have the majors’ worst record at 21-47, dealt the Cardinals their first series loss in their last 15 and their first road series loss in their last 12. The Cardinals boast the majors’ best road record at 25-13.
But they had little working Sunday as they finished a 10-day, nine-game trip at a modest 5-4.
Matheny, however, said the Cardinals weren’t worn out by the end of the long trip and that he saw his club’s normal effort.
“I don’t think the effort level was down. I don’t think the intensity level was down,” said Matheny. “(Nolasco) was good. We got down. That was the story of the game.”
The Cardinals’ rotation is set for the four-game Chicago series, which begins tonight in St. Louis, with righthanders Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn lined up.
Friday would be the day for Lyons, and the Cardinals do like having one lefthander in their rotation. “We’ll take a look at it and see what our best option is,” said Lilliquist.
But righthander Michael Wacha, just sent back to the minors, is not eligible to come back yet, unless there is an injury, and the Cardinals would be loath do that this quickly anyway.
They do have Joe Kelly, who worked nearly six innings in a spot start a couple of weeks ago. And they have a pitcher with a 0.00 earned run average in lefthanded reliever Kevin Siegrist, who knocked off another perfect inning Sunday, giving him 5 1/3 in five outings.
“Is there a magic pill to get him built up to 110 (pitches)?” joked Lilliquist.