Final start of '22 could be launching point for Lyles

Righty who is perpetually making adjustments looks to build on last year's success

March 1st, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In what was arguably his best Major League season,  saved the very best for last.

The new Royals right-hander made one of the most dominating starts against the Yankees last Sept. 30, when he struck out nine -- including leadoff man Aaron Judge on a backdoor sinker in the first -- and limited New York to four singles in seven innings in Baltimore’s 2-1 victory.

While Judge had to wait another four days for homer No. 62, Lyles got victory No. 12, tying a career high and concluding a season in which he made a career-high 32 starts and threw 179 innings, one short of a career high set the season before.

“That city,” Lyles said, remembering the atmosphere. “That ballpark. Friday night. It was a special environment. You just take it in at that point and go from there.”

And here he is, projected as a mainstay in a Kansas City rotation headed by Zack Greinke after the Royals swooped in with a two-year, $17 million contract when the Orioles paid Lyles a $1 million buyout rather than accept his $11 million option for this season.

Lyles made his first Spring Training start in the Royals’ 12-6 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday, allowing a two-run homer to Josh Bell in the first inning and not much else.

Lyles had one strikeout and one walk while throwing 35 pitches. He used the outing to work on his changeup and his two breaking balls, a slider and a curveball. He threw three sliders.

“I need both those pitches,” Lyles said of the breaking balls. “Last year, I relied more on the slider. When I am at my best in my previous years, my curveball has been on point, and that’s what I can rely on.

“This Spring Training, my main focus is trying to dial that back in and get that retooled and have two good breaking balls.”

A command-and-control guy, Lyles allowed only 2.6 walks per nine innings last season, his lowest ratio since 2011 and one that ranked in the 65th percentile of qualifiers.

Lyles enters the season after a strong finish in 2022. He was 6-3 with a 3.80 ERA in his final 12 starts, with five of his 13 quality starts in that stretch.

He credited a repertoire tweak.

“I relied on my slider a lot, and to complement that I was using a two-seam [fastball] that ran the opposite direction,” Lyles said. “I got a little more comfortable as the season went on using those two pitches, synchronized, one after another.”

Lyles is in his 13th Major League season, and some of his longevity could be due to an ability to make adjustments. After throwing 180 innings and allowing a Majors-high 38 homers with Texas in 2021, he dropped his home run total to a manageable 26 last year.

“Just learning,” Lyles said. “Trying new things. Hearing new thoughts. New ideas. My mind is never shut off. In two weeks, I’m going to be different than I am today. I’m going to learn something. It’s an ongoing process. It never stops.”

A quick worker, Lyles said his first experience with the pitch timer was no big deal. The lack of a defensive shift behind him, on the other hand, will be something to be reckoned with.

“There are going to be more runs scored,” he said. “There are going to be more lefties getting hits. It’s going to be a big factor. There are going to be more lefties standing on first instead of taking a right turn for sure.”

turned 35 and hit 99 Tuesday, when he struck out two and allowed an infield single in one inning in his first Spring Training appearance with the Royals. Chapman’s first pitch of the inning was clocked at 97 mph on scoreboard radar gun, and he threw two 99 mph fastballs to Amed Rosario before striking him out with a 90 mph changeup.

“I was excited to see the velo,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “They had kind of simplified his delivery from what he had been doing early in the spring.”

Chapman’s first appearance was delayed a few days after he suffered a cut lip in an accident at home that required a trip to the hospital and stitches last weekend.

• Third baseman made the effort play of the day, sprinting down the left-field line to chase a foul ball that landed in the seats. Dungan struck the railing at full speed and tumbled into the seats. He emerged and remained in the game. Dungan banged up his left leg, Quatraro said, but “he said he was more worried that he was going to spike one of the women sitting in the first row. He feels fine.” Dungan gave a thumbs-up sign as he left the field.

• Right-hander hit 97 mph consistently in a 1-2-3 ninth inning, getting three groundouts.