'#1 Dad' Lyles leads by example for young O's rotation

Right-hander bounces back from two early runs to turn in 6 1/3-inning quality start

June 22nd, 2022

BALTIMORE --  had an idea. He, Tyler Wells and  are the young bucks of the Orioles’ rotation, none with more than three years of Major League experience under his belt. They share a rotation with , the O’s only member of a select group of big leaguers with over 10 years of service time.

Seeing such, and partly at Lyles’ behest, Bradish posited the idea of customizing shirts ahead of Lyles’ scheduled start on Father’s Day on Sunday, featuring a picture of Lyles’ face with the words “Best Dad Ever” printed under it. For Lyles, they procured one that said “#1 Dad,” and gifted him a bottle of bourbon.

Lyles didn’t get the chance to pitch his planned Father’s Day outing, nor take the scheduled photo op Wells had planned for the four of them, as he was scratched with a stomach virus just hours prior. But he did plenty to show some fatherly lessons in Tuesday’s makeup start, a 3-0 loss to the Nationals at Camden Yards, with the T-shirt now in his possession.

“[Wells] tells me all the time I talk to him like his dad, away from the field stuff, life stuff. He refers to me, jokingly, as dad and he kept saying that,” Lyles laughed. “I said, 'All right, Father's Day is coming up. You better give me something.' … Unfortunately, I wasn't here to laugh with them.”

Lyles, the elder statesman of the Orioles’ inexperienced rotation despite being just 31, bore down through tough luck and some trying at-bats for just two earned runs across his 6 1/3 innings, his first quality start in his past five outings. Following Rougned Odor’s error, which prolonged the second inning, Lyles retired 15 of his last 18 batters.

Tuesday was only the sixth time this season the Orioles have seen a starter record an out in the seventh inning, and the first since Bruce Zimmermann went 6 1/3 innings against the Yankees in New York on May 24. Zimmermann has since been demoted to the Minors; Lyles owns four of the six outings.

That’s the type of pitching mentality Lyles is attempting to pass along. Tabbed as an innings-eater through his career, Lyles was near the top of the innings pitched leaderboards before he hit a spell of rough outings in this last five-start stretch, his ERA ballooning from 4.10 to 5.10 in the process. But now, his 78 2/3 frames pitched this season comfortably leads the Orioles (Wells, on an innings limit this season, is second-closest among active players, at 59 2/3), and sat in the top 25 in baseball as of last out on Tuesday.

“[He] went into the seventh inning for us, kept us right there,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said after a four-hit effort from the offense and just one baserunner reaching second base. “We just didn't have any offense tonight to help him out.”

But that the Orioles were in such a position can be attributed to their workhorse, their dependable starter whose goal each start is to pitch as deep as he can, then “scratch another [inning] out for the boys.” Lyles’ night was a microcosm for what can be gained by a pitching staff that has struggled to do that thus far, only three times completing seven innings through 69 games.

“Having traffic or maybe not having your best stuff, really trying to find it a little bit later -- that's not abnormal for him or any pitcher that's been around for a while,” Hyde said. “He did a great job of finding it, getting a little sharper as the game went on, and [he] went into the seventh.”

“Fortunate to get into the seventh for the guys out there,” Lyles said.

An idealized version of the Orioles’ 2022 rotation had Lyles pitching behind staff ace . At some point, they would be joined by Grayson Rodriguez, the game’s top pitching prospect, and fellow top 100 prospect DL Hall.

Means is out for the year after Tommy John surgery. Rodriguez might be the same, due to a right lat strain he endured at the outset of the month. Hall’s time in the Majors could be coming soon, and when he arrives, he will be yet another young pitcher with a role model already around for the learning.

Hyde sees the likes of Bradish, Wells and Kremer flock to Lyles in the dugout, soaking up tips about his long-standing between-starts routine, his mentality and his methods to navigate through an order. Conversations range outside of baseball, too.

Conversations that warranted a brand new T-shirt: “#1 Dad.”

“He is definitely the veteran in the group,” Hyde said pregame. “He's the guy with the most experience, and they do lean on him quite a bit for all sorts of things. They're so inexperienced, the rest of those four guys. To have somebody that's done this for a while now is extremely beneficial. … It's nice to have somebody that has such a great veteran presence for those guys.”

“They're a bunch of good, young guys that I enjoy being around,” Lyles said. “Yeah, it was fun.”