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Lynn pitches into early trouble

Lynn pitches into early trouble


At various times this season, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and starter Lance Lynn have described the righty’s search for a beneficial blend of fury and focus to take the mound. Coaches have talked to him about his erratic body language. Lynn has stressed how important it is for him to “pitch with an edge.”

The Cardinals know the pitcher they need him to be.

They know the pitcher he can be.

The one they saw Saturday is not it.

Lynn slogged through five innings, clearly wearing his difficulties and discomfort on the mound like a second sweat-soaked jersey. He set a

laborious pace for a game that lasted nearly four hours, and fell behind early as the San Diego Padres took a four-run lead and held on for a 5-3 victory at Busch Stadium. Lynn was again undone by singles, walks, wild pitches and infield hits – little gnats that alone are easy to wave away, but in swarms are harder to ignore.

“We know he’s had a couple weird starts,” Matheny said. “Those start to compound (and) it effects how you go about it. … His body language is something that we continue to work on. It wasn’t his best showing in that regard either. You have to stop. Regroup. It didn’t appear that he was able to do that.”

The Padres stopped a 10-game losing streak on the road by scoring in each of the first three innings against Lynn (11-5) and then letting the bullpen hold the lead. The Cardinals stung starter Edinson Volquez for three runs. Career minor-leaguer Brock Peterson’s long-awaited major-league debut delivered an RBI groundout that tightened the Padres’ lead to 4-3 in the fifth inning. The Padres’ parade of relievers stopped the Cardinals from there. Climaxing with closer Huston Street’s perfect ninth inning and 16th save, San Diego’s bullpen did not allow the Cardinals to get a runner safely to second base.

The loss halted the Cardinals’ home winning streak at six games.

As the first-place Cardinals start the backstretch of the regular season, their starting pitching has become the wobbliest leg. Beyond ace Adam Wainwright, who starts the series finale Sunday against the Padres, the starters have not consistently provided quality or quantity. Lynn, a potential innings monster for the rotation, has personified that inconsistent work. In three of his previous four games, his start was complicated by troublesome innings – one each of at least three runs. Although he spent most of the first three innings Saturday pitching with runners on base, he did minimize the single-inning eruptions. The tedium of hits got to him.

Two singles and a walk produced a run in the first inning.

Everth Cabrera’s sacrifice fly scored a run in the second inning. Yonder Alonso scored on Lynn’s 55-foot wild pitch in the third inning and Nick Hundley’s infield single scored the fourth run as San Diego took a 4-0 lead. David Freese made a slick bare-handed play on Hundley’s grounder, but Matt Adams couldn’t make the catch at first and keep his foot on the bag.

“I’ve been getting killed by the old single lately,” Lynn said. “That’s hard to swallow.”

Why is apparently even harder to explain.

“He just never had his feel for his fastball,” Matheny said.

Lynn said he didn’t have his off-speed stuff.

At one stretch during the game, Lynn fell behind on the first pitch to seven of nine batters. He went exclusively to his fastball for long stretches and was unable to locate. A power pitcher with late movement on his pitch, Lynn didn’t unnerve the Padres. Of the first 77 pitches he threw, only three went for swings and misses. One was by Volquez. For the first time all season, Lynn’s failed to strike out more than two in back-to-back starts. And his frustration was clear as he stalked the mound and flipped his glove.

“Fastball wasn’t the problem,” Lynn said. “It was off-speed stuff. … When you don’t have an off-speed pitch, a lot of guys can hit fastballs.”

Lynn lost for the fourth time in three starts, and he did so by downshifting to a much slower pace than his usual aggressive, attack approach. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist talked to him about it during the game, suggesting he get the ball and make a pitch quicker. Matheny wasn’t sure if he slowed down because he couldn’t find his fastball but added about the pace: “I wouldn’t suggest that’s what he does moving forward.”

Lynn’s innings contrasted with Volquez’s early innings. The Padres’ righty, with a handful of scouts there to see him pitch as the July 31 deadline approaches, retired the first nine batters he faced. Matt Carpenter’s walk in the fourth interrupted that run. That was followed by Jon Jay’s single, and two batters later Allen Craig did what he does – drive in runs. Craig swung and missed on a 95-mph fastball and a 94-mph fastball before connecting on a 96-mph fastball for a two-run single. He’s hitting .484 with runners in scoring position this season.

A standing ovation greeted Peterson when he pinch-hit for Lynn in the bottom of the fifth inning. After more than 1,000 games in the minors and more than 4,100 at-bats in the minors, Peterson took his time in his debut. He saw nine pitches from Volquez. One was a wild pitch that moved Freese to third. The ninth was a ball Peterson put in play for an RBI groundout.

An ovation ushered him back to the dugout.

He said that he didn't hear it because he was thinking about his at-bat.

"I was happy to get a run in," Peterson said. "Happy I helped the team."

Lynn needed 91 pitches to get through five innings. For a righty who the Cardinals expect to handle innings, he has seen the totals drop. He’s averaging less than six innings per start in his previous seven.

He's allowed 67 base runners in his previous 41 innings and 29 runs, all of them earned.

“A starter going five is not going to get it done, if that’s what you’re asking,” Lynn said.

The Cardinals know that’s not who he is.

“He won 18 games last year being himself,” Matheny said. “It’s a work in progress. He is a young pitcher. We’re trying to find that fine line. He needs to be himself and we need to find what that is. I think he’s got a pretty good idea about what it looks like, and (Saturday) really wasn’t it.”

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