KANSAS CITY -- When Daniel Lynch made his Major League debut at the beginning of May and was sent back to Triple-A Omaha a week and a half later, he knew that he was not the pitcher who had struggled in those three starts.
So he went back to Omaha, completed the homework that the Royals coaching staff had given him and has made the most of his second stint in the Majors.
Lynch was stellar again on Tuesday night against the Astros in the Royals’ 3-1 win at Kauffman Stadium, giving Kansas City its second win over the American League West-leading club in the four-game set this week. Lynch (3-3) was backed by Hanser Alberto’s two-out, two-strike double in the sixth inning that drove in the game-winning runs.
“Lynch pitched a really good game, so he deserved those runs right there,” Alberto said. “That’s why it makes me more happy.”
With seven strong innings Tuesday, allowing one run on four hits against one of the best offenses in baseball, Lynch now has a 2.35 ERA in his last five starts since being recalled on July 25 to face the Tigers.
“It’s a young player that went [down] and had a purpose,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We said, ‘Here’s a checklist of things that you need to do to get better.’ And he didn’t hang his head. He got to work. … That’s a really big ask for any young player, and he just continues to learn and grow.”
Here’s what Lynch learned Tuesday night: He can compete without his best stuff until he finds his best stuff. The 24-year-old didn’t have his usual slider bite in the early innings against the Astros, and they smoked a few fastballs that leaked over the plate in the first and second innings. But Lynch relied on his changeup and his defense to navigate through it.
After Carlos Santana started a nifty double play to erase a leadoff walk in the second inning, Lynch allowed a double to Chas McCormick with two outs. But he got Taylor Jones swinging on a changeup to end the threat. In the third, Lynch put two on with a double and a walk, and while one scored on Carlos Correa’s RBI single to shallow center field, Michael A. Taylor threw out Martín Maldonaldo at home to end the Astros’ momentum.
Lynch’s changeup has been key to his development. When the Royals drafted him in 2018, it was his slider and curveball that were the most devastating.
Now, the changeup is a weapon, too.
“They harped on it so much coming up how important that pitch is going to be,” Lynch said. “And I’m definitely starting to realize it. You’re not going to have some pitches every night, so that was something I felt was ... just enough to keep them off the fastball until I could get my slider and curveball going a little bit.”
The defense allowed Lynch to get in a rhythm without allowing too much damage. Then, to end the fourth inning, he threw McCormick a slider down and inside that McCormick swung right through to end the frame.
That’s when Lynch knew he had his slider back.
“I felt like that was one where I was like, ‘All right, there it is right there,’” Lynch said. “Then I got some confidence back in it and threw it down and in like I like to.”
Lynch breezed through the fifth and sixth innings. In the seventh, Nicky Lopez made his defense known again, sprinting out into left field with an outstretched glove to make an over-the-shoulder snag. Lynch walked McCormick with two outs after that, but he finished off the inning and his outing with a filthy changeup to Taylor Jones for the fifth and final strikeout of Lynch’s night.
Here’s the other thing Lynch learned Tuesday: He can compete well against some of the best hitters in baseball. The five offenses he’s faced in this five-game stretch rank first (Blue Jays), second (Astros), eighth (White Sox), 17th (Yankees) and 19th (Tigers).
“I try not to think too much about it, because I don’t know how that’s going to help me in any way,” Lynch said. “I’m a firm believer that if you leave stuff in the middle and don’t do what you need to do against any team in the league, they’re going to get you.”
But for Lynch to face a lineup like the Astros, who also have the fewest strikeouts in the league, and have success is another stepping stone for his future. And his future with Kansas City is bright.
“We’ve talked about a lot of these guys checking boxes,” Matheny said. “Young players tend to give the opposition too much credit, especially against guys who’ve had success. Players that they’ve watched in the postseason and World Series. But he just came out and did what he’s been doing.”