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Lyles makes strong case to stay with Rockies

Right-hander 2-0 for Colorado as replacement for injured Chatwood @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- Jordan Lyles has already been sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs once this spring. He never got there, though.

And the way Lyles has pitched in his first two starts for the Colorado Rockies, he may never make that trip 70 miles south on I-25.

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When it comes to discussing his situation with the big league team, to call Lyles politically correct is an understatement.

"Obviously, I'm hopeful I'll be here for 15 years, but that's up to them," Lyles said.

Lyles' activities on the playing field, however, belie his utterance.

Lyles was the odd man out in the Rockies' Spring Training battle for the starting rotation, assigned to Colorado Springs when they decided to move lefty Franklin Morales from the bullpen into the rotation to take the spot of Jhoulys Chacin, who is on the disabled list while he builds up shoulder strength.

Before Lyles ever left camp, however, Tyler Chatwood strained a hamstring trying to stretch a double into a triple in his final exhibition appearance, and instead of joining the SkySox for their season-opening series in New Orleans, Lyles rejoined Colorado in Miami. He started the third game of the season, the only one the Rockies won in their four-game series against the Marlins.

Lyles followed that up with an impressive 6 2/3 innings in an 8-1 victory against the Chicago White Sox at Coors Field on Monday night.

"He has done very well for himself," manager Walt Weiss said in his politically correct response to the suggestion Lyles could stay when Chatwood returns. "He can hit, too."

Lyles sure did on Monday. In addition to allowing just five hits and a run in 6 2/3 innings against the White Sox, he went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, adding another asset to his big league ledger.

Is it enough to keep him around? An answer could be coming soon.

Chatwood is scheduled to make a rehab assignment for Colorado Springs at Round Rock on Tuesday night. If all goes well, the plan is for him to join the club in San Francisco this weekend.

The question becomes how the Rockies open a spot on their roster and in their rotation.

The initial plan was to send Lyles back down for seasoning. He, however, is forcing Colorado to at least reconsider that idea. That could instead move Morales back to the bullpen, where he would join fellow lefties Boone Logan and Rex Brothers just in time for a 20-game stretch of games against teams who have impact left-handed bats.

Having three lefties would give Weiss plenty of situational flexibility in those upcoming games against the Giants, Padres, D-backs and Phillies. It also would buy more time to evaluate Lyles while the Rockies await the anticipated late April return of Chacin from the disabled list.

It, however, could mean having to make a decision on which reliever to send out.

Chad Bettis does have options, but he also has what scouts call a "big arm," showing more consistent velocity than any other pitching on the staff. And there is the lingering question about what to do with Wilton Lopez, who has a $2.2 million guaranteed contract, but has followed up last year's inconsistency with more of the game this year.

Lyles is quickly answering questions about himself. His first two starts have shown growth.

The first time out, Lyles dominated Miami for five innings, but he couldn't retire any of the three batters he faced in the sixth inning of what became a 6-5 victory, Giancarlo Stanton slipping a home run in between a hit batter and a walk.

That was reminiscent of struggles the Houston Astros spoke about after they traded him along with outfielder Brandon Barnes for center fielder Dexter Fowler in the winter. Lyles hit a speed bump his third time through the lineup. He took a step forward in that regards on Monday.

Given a 6-0 lead after five innings against the White Sox, Lyles got a test when Dayan Viciedo led off the sixth with a double. Instead of opening a scoring barrage, however, Viciedo wound up stranded on third thanks to three consecutive ground balls.

And Lyles? Knowing his fastball was a bit out of control, Lyles turned to breaking pitches, including a first-pitch curveball which Adam Eaton took for a strike one right after Viciedo doubled.

"I know they can you can't throw [the breaking ball] here, but that was my mindset," Lyles said.

It's a positive mental adjustment for him.

"In that situation, I'm not worried about the guy at second," he said. "I'm trying to get the guy at home plate. In years past, maybe I was too worried about my numbers. Now, I just want to win the ballgame.

"I have a job to do. Since I was traded here, I've realized that sometimes less is more."

At the same time, the Rockies are realizing that Lyles has the potential for long-term success. And he has thrown a curve into Colorado's seemingly easy decision of how to create a roster spot when Chatwood is ready to be activated.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Colorado Rockies, Chad Bettis, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales