Lynn's trusted four-seamer hit hard: 'Got to be better'

July 7th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- What worked so well over 's two previous starts -- relying on his four-seam fastball to get ahead in counts with first-pitch strikes -- proved to be his undoing on a steamy Saturday the veteran Cardinals right-hander would just as soon forget.

Just six days after starting off the first 16 batters he faced with first-pitch strikes, blossoming Nats star CJ Abrams hit the first pitch of the bottom of the first for a Statcast-estimated 415-foot home run. Four batters later, Keibert Ruiz hit a first pitch from Lynn for a three-run home run and the rout was on.

The ambush homers on the first pitches portended what was to come on a 97-degree day for the 37-year-old Lynn, who surrendered a career-worst 10 earned runs in the Cardinals’ 14-6 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park.

“In this game no one’s going to feel bad for you if you have a bad start and today, I think it was the worst start of my career,” said Lynn, a 13-year MLB veteran who has made 335 starts. “It feels like it, so I’ve got to be better. … I wouldn’t be playing this long if I didn’t flush [bad outings].”

The lopsided loss came just hours after the Cardinals rallied from a five-run deficit to win 7-6 in 11 innings late Friday night. On Saturday, the Cardinals trailed 9-0 before coming to the plate a third time. They did get within 9-4 and had slugger Nolan Gorman up with the bases loaded in the third, but he whiffed.

Gorman, who has struggled with soaring strikeout rates of late, was one of the bright spots, with two doubles and three hits in five plate appearances. Out of the starting lineup on Friday so he could work on stopping his tendency of pulling off pitches, Gorman had two hits and two RBIs on Friday before his three more hits in Saturday’s lopsided loss.

“It looks better and today was a really good day for him,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said of Gorman. “He’s been working hard in the mornings and afternoons to transfer it into games. His gather was slower and he’s staying through the ball better. That [double] to center looked right. He’s going to continue to work, but today was a solid day.”

Lynn’s struggles were surprising considering how dominant he had been in his two most recent wins over the Braves and Reds. In those strong outings, Lynn allowed just six hits and one earned run combined in 12 2/3 innings of work.

Lynn turned around his season two weeks ago by leaning more on his four-seam fastball, a pitch that had been tied for first as the most valuable pitch in MLB this year in terms of run value (14, tied with Cade Smith and Cole Ragans), per Baseball Savant. Over his previous two starts, Lynn leaned heavily on his four-seam fastballs, throwing it 68.9 percent of the time compared to just 42.1 percent of the time over his first 15 starts. Lynn threw his four-seam fastball a season-high 75.9 percent of the time last Saturday against the Reds, a squad he limited to just two hits over six scoreless innings.

On Saturday, the Nationals were clearly hunting first-pitch strikes and four-seam fastballs from Lynn. Abrams hit a four-seamer for his sixth career leadoff home run. While Ruiz hit a first-pitch sinker for a homer, young Nats star James Wood smashed a four-seam fastball for his first MLB homer in the second inning.

“You look at the first inning and there were two homers on first pitches, so they did a good job of getting me out of what I do,” Lynn said. “They put good swings on balls, and I wasn’t executing.”

Whereas Lynn got 14 swings and misses and nine called strikes with his four-seam fastball last Sunday against the Reds, he got just four whiffs and eight called strikes with that pitch on Saturday.

On a day when the Cardinals needed length out of their starting pitcher on the heels of three straight extra innings games, Lynn lasted just 2 2/3 innings. He yielded nine hits, 11 runs -- 10 of which were earned -- and four walks. He was denied a chance to earn his first win over the Nationals since June 13, 2014 -- a victory that came during his first stint with the Cardinals from 2011-17.

Lynn allowing the three home runs on Saturday has to be somewhat of a concern to the Cardinals. He surrendered an MLB-most 44 homers last season. Through 18 starts, he’s been much better in that aspect, by allowing just 13 long balls.

“There’s no other way to say it -- I didn’t pitch well,” Lynn said. “All in all, I’ve got to be better.”