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New approach highlights Lynn's return to hill

Relying on more than just fastballs, Cardinals righty looks strong in 5 1/3 innings
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Five hundred and forty-four days after last appearing in a Major League game, Lance Lynn showcased himself as not only fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, but also having an expanded repertoire as a result of it.

Lynn left the Cardinals with a lead when he was pulled with one out in the sixth on Thursday. St. Louis squandered it in an eventual 6-4 loss to the Cubs, but Lynn's return was hardly a side note. Within a rotation dotted with questions, Lynn is making a convincing case that he shouldn't be one of them.

Full Game Coverage

ST. LOUIS -- Five hundred and forty-four days after last appearing in a Major League game, Lance Lynn showcased himself as not only fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, but also having an expanded repertoire as a result of it.

Lynn left the Cardinals with a lead when he was pulled with one out in the sixth on Thursday. St. Louis squandered it in an eventual 6-4 loss to the Cubs, but Lynn's return was hardly a side note. Within a rotation dotted with questions, Lynn is making a convincing case that he shouldn't be one of them.

Full Game Coverage

Coming off a strong spring, Lynn displayed his versatility in his first outing since October 2015. He's not abandoning his fastball-first mentality, but he is ready with other pitch options, most notably a changeup, which he further developed during his rehab work.

"It's something that I made a conscious effort to work on while I was rehabbing, because I knew that was going to be a pitch that's going to help me because teams have a tendency to load up lefties," Lynn said. "So to be able to throw some changeups and some cutters off the sinker and four-seamer is going to add another element."

The Cubs noticed too, as Chicago manager Joe Maddon -- who had six left-handed bats in his starting lineup -- remarked that he thought his "lefties would get a better look at him, but we didn't." Over Lynn's career, he has allowed left-handed hitters to hit .260/.357/.418.

According to Statcast™, Lynn threw 12 changeups in his 98-pitch outing. For reference, just 1.9 percent of the pitches he threw in 2015 were changeups. His highest season percentage came back in '12, when Lynn threw 6.9 percent changeups.

"He's going to make people think a little more," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "In the big situations, he wasn't afraid to throw his changeup. He threw a couple slow breaking balls too, but again, was smart when he did it. When he needed to place his fastball, he was putting it where he needed to. He had good movement."

Though Lynn still threw 72 percent fastballs on Thursday, that did represent a decrease from where he was two seasons ago, when arm issues precluded him from throwing much else. Statcast™ data shows that Lynn threw a higher percentage of fastballs (81 percent) in 2015 than all other starters except for Bartolo Colon.

The next item to tackle for Lynn is efficiency. His pitch count jumped the second and third times through Chicago's order, and that complicated a few innings. He did escape a bases-loaded jam by retiring Kris Bryant, but he allowed five of the final eight batters he faced to reach.

"As the game went on, I got a little too fine, especially with the sinker," Lynn said. "I tried to make the perfect pitch instead of just attacking. It's been a while since I've been in a Major League game, but everything felt good and I'm excited to build off of that."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Lynn