SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Daniel Lynch acknowledged Thursday that spring stats don’t tell the full story, but he also admitted it’s hard to take the competitor out of the picture when he steps on the mound.
So when he was faced with adversity in his spring debut, an eventual 5-4 walk-off win over the Reds at Surprise Stadium, Lynch turned to his best stuff and tried to settle down. The lefty ended his outing after 2 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, three runs (two earned), one walk and three strikeouts.
Lynch made some mistakes -- the slider that Joey Votto rocketed over the right-field wall missed its spot in the first inning -- but he also came back to settle in and pitch more aggressively, finishing the third inning better than he started the first. The defense didn’t help with an error and a fielder’s choice that didn’t result in an out, and Lynch saw some bad-luck balls land for hits. But his takeaway was overall positive.
“There’s nothing like getting out there,” Lynch said. “The adrenaline, on the field with the fans in the stands. You’re playing another team. That was good to just to feel that.”
Lynch is competing for a spot in the Royals' rotation after making 15 starts and posting a 5.69 ERA across 68 innings for Kansas City in his rookie year. The 25-year-old’s first taste of the big leagues in May didn't go well, but he returned to the Majors in the second half and established himself with a 2.39 ERA over five starts in August.
That stretch is what he wanted to build upon when he went home for the offseason. The work started with a meeting with Royals coaches and officials, where they dove deep into analytics and how Lynch could apply numbers to his training. The Royals didn’t want to dump a ton of data and information on pitchers; instead, they focused on one or two things they could improve.
Lynch’s tasks: Carry on his fastball and depth on his curveball.
“Analytics are a hard thing because it’s really easy for it to come off like it’s critical,” Lynch said. “But they did a good job of making sure that it was, ‘Hey, look, we think you’re fine the way you are. But here’s how we think you could become elite.’ That resonates with me because it’s all I really care about. Winning and being the best I can possibly be.”
Working on his fastball life was easy to do every day Lynch played catch this winter. What he really focused on was the curveball. And he actually didn’t rely on the data at first.
“I did the opposite where I went after the shape I wanted and then took it to the data, and then I was kind of like, ‘It is what it is.’” Lynch said. “I like the shape, I like the way it’s breaking, and it turns out, the data backs it up.”
That’s different than what he has done in the past. After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, Lynch was on a mission to improve every pitch, even after having success.
“I chased the data first, and it kind of messed me up and I was chasing something that I couldn’t really attain perfection with,” Lynch said. “I’ve really tried to change that attitude. There was a stretch there where I pitched great in the big leagues for a long time. It wasn’t a fluke. How can I get a little bit better? I wanted to get the feel, shape, and then see what the numbers say.”
The early numbers have backed up what the Royals believe is a solid improvement with his curveball. There is depth in the breaking ball, and it’s now distinct from his slider.
“When I watch it, I think it has potential to be a plus-plus pitch,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It could end up being one of his best pitches. He has the ability to spin the ball, and it’s a weird angle that it comes from. You just don’t see good swings.”
Lynch had to get a feel for throwing a curve because he’s so used to his hand being behind the ball with his slider. He also changed his grip for his finger to have a more traditional spike on the ball instead of tucking his finger.
“I think that helped, to not have the ball so choked in my hand, get some more feel off my fingers,” Lynch said. “And then it was just reps. First, I didn’t really care where it was going, if it bounced or was high. I just wanted to have a feel of the ball spinning over and over and over out of my hand.
“Then, as the offseason progressed, I focused more on throwing it for strikes. Because it doesn’t matter how good a pitch it is if I can’t throw it for a strike.”
On Thursday, Lynch only threw four curveballs out of his 60 or so pitches. Two of them were quality pitches in the third inning to Kyle Farmer and Tyler Naquin.
Lynch would have liked to throw more, but his competitiveness kicked in when he ran into trouble.
“You’re in compete mode and want to throw what you’re most comfortable with,” Lynch said. “I was really hoping that there were going to be more opportunities, like if a ground ball would be an out, that I could throw three in a row or something. But the opportunity didn’t present itself today. … But still, felt good with it.”