Rangers address HR issue after tough loss

July 17th, 2021

Jordan Lyles entered the All-Star break at his best, winning three of his final four outings and continuing to climb out of a slugging start.

The key in that span? Just one home run allowed in 25 innings.

Lyles lost his way on Friday, though, allowing four home runs in a 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. That brought Lyles up to 21 home runs allowed this season, second in the Majors behind teammate Mike Foltynewicz (24).

“It’s a very good lineup, a very good team,” Lyles said of the Blue Jays. “They made me pay [for] a lot of mistakes tonight.”

No team was as poised to unsettle Lyles’s recent homer-free ways as the Blue Jays, who are tied with the Giants in the Majors with 135 home runs. Thirty of those belong to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who got Toronto rolling in the first inning.

Lyles left a slider in an elevated spot for Guerrero, and the league’s OPS leader mashed it beyond the wall in left-center field with a 100.1 mph exit velocity. In just four innings, Lyles allowed eight balls in play with an exit velocity of 100-plus mph -- four of them left the yard.

After stranding a pair of runners in the second, Lyles yielded three more homers in the third, including back-to-back blasts -- both on sliders -- by Teoscar Hernández and Randal Grichuk. Lyles has now allowed four homers on two occasions in his 11-year career -- the other instance coming last month against the Astros. He’s the only pitcher so far this season to allow four or more homers in a game, twice.

Lyles and Foltynewicz have certainly struggled to keep the ball inside the yard, but as a whole, the Rangers’ pitching staff have been bitten by the long ball recently. They’ve allowed 17 home runs in their last seven games (and 13 over their last three). Manager Chris Woodward said it’s something the team talks about “a lot.”

“It’s something that we are addressing, or are currently addressing, and we’ll definitely continue to address,” he said. “Because we can’t win too many games if we’re gonna give up three or four homers in a game.”

In the case of Lyles on Friday, the culprit of his collapse was his slider. He noted that it would frequently back up on him, and that it didn’t “have as much bite as it’s had in the past.”

This season, Lyles has generated a 26.7 whiff rate on his slider. It’s his second-most used pitch and his primary putaway option.

When asked if the rainy conditions may have played a role, Lyles shot that down. His spikes had collected some extra mud, sure, but he wasn’t interested in blaming the weather.

Nor was he interested in blaming the All-Star break, which one could argue came at a poor time for the veteran righty.

“Tonight’s game is solely on me not making quality pitches and just having a poor outing,” Lyles said.

Woodward summed the game up this way: “We just got our butts kicked tonight. We didn’t execute, and they didn’t miss [the mistakes].”

A ninth-inning home run by Eli White prevented a shutout on the Rangers’ side, but the top offensive highlight was actually a harmless leadoff single in the seventh. That belonged to Jonah Heim, the hometown kid from Buffalo, who received a warm reception from family and friends despite the Rangers’ 10-run deficit.

“I think we’re all fans of this game, and little things like that go a long way,” Woodward said. “We all came from somewhere. We don’t have a big league team in my hometown [of Covina, Calif.]. Not too many guys do.

“So for him to come here and actually be able to play a big league game, where a big league team doesn’t [usually] play, it was pretty special. And for the crowd to recognize that, I feel like that was pretty cool.”