ARLINGTON -- Jordan Lyles entered the 2021 season as a middle-of-the rotation guy whose main role was to eat innings, as the Rangers fought through a rebuild to their first 100-loss season in almost 50 years.
Lyles has done exactly that, for the most part. Despite some struggles along the way, the veteran righty delivered 180 innings for Texas in 2021, culminating in arguably his best start of the season -- a seven-inning outing in the Rangers’ 7-2 win over Cleveland on Saturday night at Globe Life Field.
Willie Calhoun opened the scoring with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first and Jonah Heim hit a three-run shot of his own in the fourth. The Rangers' offense added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth to blow the game open.
“I felt really good,” Lyles said. “Overall I just feel like I threw the ball pretty decently. This last month or so, things are starting to turn in the right direction. … It was good to finish tonight and this month in the right direction. Who knows what next year holds, but hopefully we can continue what we build on this last month.”
Lyles retired the last 11 batters he faced, including five strikeouts, after allowing a single to José Ramírez to open the fourth inning. Lyles said he was mostly happy to get a good outing against Cleveland after he allowed eight runs over 3 2/3 innings the last time the two teams faced each other on Aug. 26.
Lyles, in winning his 10th game, allowed one run on just two hits and struck out eight on 99 pitches. His 146 strikeouts tied a career high, which he last achieved in 2019 when he split the season between the Pirates and Brewers. His 180 total innings is also a career high. He finishes the season with an ERA of 5.15.
Lyles finished strong after that start in Cleveland, going 4-2 with a 3.08 ERA and .220 opponent batting average over his final six games to close the season. He produced quality starts in five of those games and 15 total in 2021.
The 30-year-old has also been invaluable to the Rangers’ clubhouse and pitching staff, especially following the Trade Deadline when Texas dealt Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy to the Phillies. Lyles has been the lone veteran pitcher and has been vital for a young Texas roster.
Rookie catcher Heim said that Lyles’ knowledge of the game and quiet leadership has meant a lot to his own personal growth this season.
“It means a lot to all of us,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I'm really proud of Jordan. He took that role on when there wasn’t a whole lot of help. Jordan took it and embraced it. He provided a lot of quality conversation and leadership throughout the clubhouse.”
Lyles will become a free agent this offseason, but it’s impossible for the Rangers to ignore what he brings to a clubhouse as they continue to power through a rebuild. With very few spots for 2022 secured, Lyles very well could return to Texas in a similar role next season.
“He knows our guys really well, he knows our team and he knows our expectations,” Woodward said on the possibility of Lyles returning. “The fact that he took on a leadership role -- and he knows how much I value that. We almost expect that out of our older guys, especially with a bunch of young starters coming up.
“Some are already here, some are on their way, but they're gonna need some learning the ropes of being a Major League starter. So he absolutely does fit the criteria of what we need.”