SAN FRANCISCO -- A sub-.500 start to the first half isn't quite how the White Sox drew it up going into the 2022 season. They still have time to get over the hump before the season is officially halfway over, but the team has recently been trending in the wrong direction: The White Sox entered the weekend series in San Francisco having lost six of their last eight.
Chicago needs a spark, and they might have it in Lance Lynn.
Lynn's season has been off to a shaky beginning, but he put up a much more characteristic start in Friday's 1-0 win over the Giants at Oracle Park, fanning five batters over six scoreless innings. Lynn ultimately earned a no-decision -- the White Sox didn't plate a run until Leury García smacked an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning -- but his outing was just what the White Sox needed to stay in the game.
"In this league, you need guys like that every day, all five of them," manager Tony La Russa said. "With Lance, it's all about health. If he's healthy, he's going to give you a chance to win."
After missing two months while recovering from right knee surgery, Lynn hadn't looked quite like himself in 2022. The veteran starter made his season debut in mid-June, and entering Friday, he had gone 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA, giving up 14 runs (11 earned) across 16 innings in three starts.
"It's coming back," Lynn said. "The first couple of starts, I threw the ball well at times and then had some bad luck, and that's going to happen. But I think once you get in the flow of what you're doing and your pitches and things like that, then everything starts rolling a little bit different."
Lynn's night started on an inauspicious note, as he got himself into a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. He got himself out of it by striking out Tommy La Stella -- his second strikeout of the frame -- but he had already thrown 29 pitches.
From then on, Lynn's approach changed. He picked up three more strikeouts, but he primarily induced outs on contact. Including the final out of the first inning, Lynn went on to retire 12 straight Giants and allowed just two additional baserunners.
"They battled some tough pitches off, they make you work on counts and stuff like that, so I flipped the script there just to try and get some quick outs," Lynn said. "Normally, that's not my game plan, but tonight it was something I had to do. With the wind blowing in and stuff like that, I was kind of able to let the elements work for me."
That Lynn made it through six innings at all was somewhat of a feat after his early laborious frames. He entered the sixth inning at 88 pitches and worked around a base hit he allowed to Wilmer Flores, punching out Mike Yastrzemski on his 104th pitch to end his night. Lynn's satisfaction was palpable as he walked off the mound.
"Guts, courage, competitiveness -- he is just a warrior," La Russa said. "You saw it, last out that he got, the way he celebrated. He knew it was the last hitter he was going to face, and he got him."
Said Lynn: "That's kind of who I am."
A healthy Lynn would be huge for the White Sox on the field, but his impact will expand beyond his performance on the mound every five days. At 35 years old, Lynn can anchor the young White Sox rotation with his hard-won experience from 11 seasons in the Majors.
Perhaps it's poetic that Lynn is pitching for his first-ever big league manager in La Russa. The White Sox skipper has watched the right-hander go from a 24-year-old rookie pitching in the World Series for the Cardinals to a seasoned veteran who has found the best form of his career in recent years.
While La Russa has seen much of that development from afar, he knows firsthand how valuable Lynn's grit can be to a team that is trying to find its way amid a difficult season.
"At that time, he was just a really good competitor, and he could pitch," La Russa said. "You want to have staff leaders, guys that young guys pay attention to. He's got a lot of good info that he contributes. He and [Lucas Giolito], they're very good for [Dylan] Cease and [Michael] Kopech.
"He's learned a lot, and he shares it."