As Jordan Lyles walked off the field after the fifth inning, he dapped up battery mate Jonah Heim, who, in turn, lightly slapped Lyles on his backside with his glove. It was a modest gesture, one that celebrated a resilient outing.
Lyles shook off a rough beginning in Tuesday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the Giants at Oracle Park to turn in a solid start, allowing two runs across five innings. While Lyles was uncharacteristically unsharp -- his five walks were a season high -- the outing was an encouraging development.
“Once he got through that inning, I felt like he settled down,” said manager Chris Woodward. “He actually was really good the last two, three innings. Once he got ahead of guys, his stuff played up.”
Lyles initially seemed destined for a short afternoon. In the first inning, Lyles allowed two walks, two earned runs and loud contact. All in all, Lyles needed 34 pitches to escape the frame. The Rangers’ bullpen ever so slightly stirred.
Following that opening frame, Lyles settled in. Even with some walks sprinkled in, Lyles faced the minimum in the second, third and fourth innings. From the first inning onward, the Giants didn’t generate much solid contact, the hardest-hit ball being Evan Longoria’s grounder in the third that resulted in a double play.
“I was spraying the ball,” Lyles said. “I didn’t have command for the fastball. I just wasn’t very good in the first inning.”
Lyles' start was one of the lone bright spots on an afternoon where the Rangers weren’t exceptional on either side of the ball.
Save David Dahl, who extended his hitting streak to seven games with a two-hit afternoon that included a home run, the Rangers’ offense was held in check by Logan Webb and his changeup, the pitch that has given Texas fits all season. Woodward addressed the team’s difficulty with hitting changeups prior to the game in a bit of foreshadowing.
There was also the matter of Texas’ defense; Charlie Culberson’s throwing error in the sixth on a routine ground ball resulted in two runs, which were ultimately the difference in the game.
“We kinda gave them the win today,” Woodward said. “We kinda gift-wrapped it for them. We just can’t make those mistakes. We’d still be playing right now if we didn’t make mistakes.”
The best performance on Tuesday may not have been from a player, but rather from the dugout -- the Rangers won all three of their replay reviews. It was only the second time the club had won three reviews in one game since replay’s inception.
The most important of the three came in the first inning, a rarity considering replays are typically saved for late-game situations. Joey Gallo was initially called out on an inning-ending double play, but after a lengthy replay review that generated a cacophony of boos, the call was overturned, allowing Isiah Kiner-Falefa to score the game’s first run.
“It doesn’t happen too often, but that’s kinda life,” Woodward said. “Sometimes you don’t get any for three games, then all of sudden you get four in one game. It helped us, obviously. It gave us a run, but I don’t expect there to be three on any given day.”
What Woodward would probably like to expect, however, is Lyles continuing to put up zeroes. Lyles was not satisfied with the walks, but yielding just two runs was tangible progress for the veteran, who has struggled out of the gate.
For Lyles, Tuesday was the first time he didn’t allow more than two earned runs in a start since his season debut. Now, the goal becomes stringing together outings that are defined by run prevention.
Lyles has already begun making progress on that front; in Lyles’ past two starts, he’s allowed five earned runs across 10 innings with 13 strikeouts. The Rangers will gladly take that production.
Lyles’ tenure with the Rangers hasn’t always been the prettiest. Last season, he allowed the most earned runs in MLB (45, tied with the Tigers' Matthew Boyd). Following Tuesday's game, Lyles had still allowed the most earned runs in the bigs (28). It certainly hasn’t been how he thought his Texas career would unfold after signing a two-year deal.
There is still work to be done for Lyles. Putting together a decent afternoon in spite of shaky command is a good start.