Lynch's great escape act a confidence builder

Royals lefty works out of bases-loaded jam to complete 5 scoreless IP vs. Dodgers

August 13th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning on Friday night, Daniel Lynch sneaked a look over to the dugout, where Mike Matheny was standing on the steps.

Lynch was checking to see if the Royals’ manager was going to take him out of the game -- his pitch count eclipsing 100 and the Dodgers’ cleanup hitter stepping to the plate.

By smacking his hands together and shouting words of encouragement toward the mound, Matheny made it very clear that this was Lynch’s game. He was staying in.

So Lynch took a breath and faced Will Smith, getting the catcher to fly out to deep center field. When the ball was caught by Michael A. Taylor, Lynch let out a roar unlike anyone had ever seen -- including himself -- as he walked off the mound.

“A little out of character,” Lynch said, chuckling, after taking a no-decision in the Royals’ 8-3 loss to the Dodgers at Kauffman Stadium. “But, just in the moment, I guess.”

Royals catcher, Salvador Perez had a big grin on his face as he met Lynch walking off the mound for a high five.

“I’ve never seen that,” Perez said. “He’s quiet. But I liked it. I was like, ‘Yes! We got something.’ That was good.”

What a moment it was for the young lefty in a game that got away from Kansas City late, but one that proved to be a massive step forward for the 25-year-old Lynch, who held the Dodgers scoreless over five innings.

Against one of the most powerful lineups in baseball, Lynch was holding his own, albeit with long innings and traffic on the bases. In the fifth, Lynch walked Mookie Betts to load the bases with no outs and the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup due up.

Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred made a mound visit to give Lynch a break.

“Really the thing that got to him more than anything else, it wasn’t just his elevated pitch count or the 20-pitch innings, it was how quick our offensive innings were,” Matheny said, noting Los Angeles starter Tony Gonsolin’s low pitch count as he no-hit the Royals until Vinnie Pasquantino’s one-out hit in the seventh inning.

“They were five, six, seven minutes long, to where Daniel didn’t have a chance to really recoup and catch his breath. And then he’s back out and throwing another 20 [pitches] with some stress.”

With Trea Turner’s speed, Lynch couldn’t guarantee a ground-ball double play, but he got Turner to pop out in foul territory for the first out.

Then came a crucial strikeout of former National League MVP Freddie Freeman, who swung on an elevated 95 mph fastball.

“He’s a good low-ball hitter,” Lynch said. “I’d thrown him a bunch of sliders before, so I think just trying to change his eye level a little bit. When Salvy puts down a pitch, I’m going to throw it with complete conviction.”

Lefty reliever Amir Garrett was warming at that point, but Matheny stuck with Lynch. And it proved to be the right decision. If anyone was more fired up than Lynch after Smith’s flyout, it was Matheny.

“He knew we needed it,” Matheny said. “He felt the energy that was in this place, and he wanted that. That’s something I don’t think he’ll ever forget. And I think it’s part of his personal growth as a pitcher to be put into a spot like that against a lineup like that and an atmosphere like this, and to come out on top.”

There are things to nitpick about Lynch’s start -- he would have liked to be more aggressive in the zone, trusting his stuff, so his pitch count wasn’t as elevated -- and there are things to lament about the Royals’ loss, including the five runs reliever Josh Staumont yielded in the seventh.

But coming up big in that spot is crucial for Lynch and the Royals as they use these final two months of the regular season to set the foundation for what they hope is a more successful 2023.

“I think he grew up two years after that inning,” Perez said. “You put people on the base, just try to get out of the inning. That's what he did. … That’s what good pitchers do. I was so happy for him.”

And to have the confidence of his manager to get out of that jam in a scoreless game was also a big step for Lynch.

“Definitely appreciate it,” Lynch said. “Hopefully it’s just another step of building trust, leaving me in there. I think [Brady] Singer, [Kris] Bubic, [Brad] Keller, obviously Zack [Greinke], have done that. And I haven’t really in my career had a sort of situation like that.

“To have that, and to get out of it, I hope it’s another step for him and for me to build some confidence."