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Lyles outduels Flaherty as Crew beats Cardinals

Right-hander allows 2 runs (1 earned) over 6 strong innings
@AdamMcCalvy
September 15, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The Brewers drew criticism from some corners when they didn’t acquire a frontline starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline. But, wait. Perhaps they actually did. “We knew he was going to be a good addition,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “We just didn’t know he was going to

ST. LOUIS -- The Brewers drew criticism from some corners when they didn’t acquire a frontline starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline.

But, wait. Perhaps they actually did.

“We knew he was going to be a good addition,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “We just didn’t know he was going to be this good.”

He is Jordan Lyles, the right-hander who mostly idled in Milwaukee's bullpen last September, was left off the team’s roster for both of its postseason series and who looked like a flier when the injury-battered Brewers re-acquired him in a July 29 trade with the Pirates. Now, Lyles leads Milwaukee’s starting rotation in the thick of another race, laying the foundation for a 5-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday that saw Mike Moustakas and Grandal each hit a two-run home run while Lyles dueled Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty for six innings -- a veritable marathon in the context of expanded-roster baseball in 2019.

Box score

The Brewers climbed within four games of the Cardinals in the NL Central with Sunday’s series finale representing the only head-to-head matchup remaining in the regular season.

And Milwaukee remained one game shy of the Cubs for the NL’s second Wild Card after Chicago pummeled Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field for the second straight day.

“Last year, I wasn’t in this situation to compete in competitive ballgames,” Lyles said. “It’s been good when the lights come on. I didn’t have that chance last year. This year, I have, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

Lyles allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in six innings to become the first Brewers starter to pitch past the fifth inning in 11 games, since Lyles’ own win over the Astros on Sept. 3 at Miller Park. With so many bullpen options available to manager Craig Counsell, no Brewers starter had recorded more than 15 outs in a game since then. Saturday snapped a stretch of six straight games in which the Milwaukee starter was not allowed to complete the fifth inning. But Lyles was afforded that right.

Consider what a change of scenery has done:

• He was 1-6 with a 9.57 ERA and a .341 opponents’ average in his final nine starts for the Pirates, who went 1-8 in those games.
• He is 6-1 with a 2.39 ERA and a .209 opponents’ average in his first nine starts for the Brewers, who are 8-1 in his games.

“We haven’t seen that many starts that long in September, but I just thought he was throwing the ball so well and just controlling the game,” Counsell said. “There might be one mistake, but it doesn’t distract him, ever. The stuff works. It does.”

What’s different since the trade? Grandal studied video of Lyles’ Pirates starts before the right-hander joined the Brewers amid an Interleague series in Oakland. Lyles’ strategy is no secret: a lot of four-seam fastballs up in the zone and sharp curveballs below. His third and fourth pitches, a cutter/slider and a changeup, have improved since the trade, and Lyles is throwing them slightly more often. On Saturday, Lyles and Grandal felt the Cardinals were on his curveball in the first inning, so they threw more of those secondary pitches as the game progressed.

But generally speaking, the pitch mix, the velocity, the locations are all similar to his starts for the Pirates. The real difference, according to Grandal, is in sequencing and execution.

“We’re giving him room for error, room for mistakes,” Grandal said. “At times, he has made mistakes, and they just haven’t been able to hit them.”

Against Flaherty on Saturday, Lyles needed run support, and he got some from Moustakas, who powered the Brewers back from an early 2-0 deficit with a game-tying homer on a first-pitch fastball down the middle in the fourth inning. It was a rare mistake for Flaherty, who entered the day with a Major League-best 0.76 ERA since the All-Star break but was touched for three earned runs in six innings.

In five starts against the Brewers this season, Flaherty is 1-3 with a 6.48 ERA. Against everyone else, he is 9-5 with a 2.39 ERA.

"It feels like you're in a two-strike count every time you get up, just because his stuff is so good,” Moustakas said. “Every pitch he throws is a plus pitch, and you're up there battling. For us to put together a couple of runs and get some guys on base against him was huge.”

"Actually, I didn't think he had his best stuff,” Grandal said. “I've seen him where he was way better than today. The fact that he was able to go as long as he did and keep the game where his team still had a shot, it tells you what kind of pitcher he is.”

The Brewers get one more head-to-head game against the Cardinals on Sunday before returning to Miller Park for the season’s final homestand.

“We’re down to the point where there’s few enough games where they all feel like huge wins,” Counsell said. “I think we’re going to say that every night. It’s two weeks left of intense baseball. Wins are really valuable. On the road, against a really good team -- valuable stuff.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.