There were some positives, mainly the seven strikeouts Lyons notched and the flashes of a strong slider and curveball. But he also left the offense facing a three-run deficit and an already-weary bullpen to cover 4 2/3 innings behind him. In other words, it wasn't a performance convincing enough to assure Lyons of pitching for the Cardinals in Pittsburgh five days from now.
"That was probably the most spotty my command has been all year," Lyons said. "Everything was just a little bit up. Fortunately, I had good command of my breaking pitches, so that bailed me out a little bit. But anytime you struggle to throw a fastball for a strike as much as I did today, it makes everything a little tougher."
Fastball command has been a repeat culprit in Lyons' various attempts to stick in a big league rotation. This was his 13th start for the Cardinals since 2013, though he is winless since his first two. Several deep counts early left Lyons' pitch count at 69 only three innings in.
"When he got ahead, good things happened. When he got behind, it was tough," manager Mike Matheny said. "You could see the stuff was there, so that's encouraging … but most of all it was just controlling the counts with his fastball."
The Cardinals don't have a bevy of other fifth-starter options at the moment, though, as Jaime Garcia and Marco Gonzales remain off that rotation replacement list for a while longer while recovering from shoulder injuries. That leaves the club to stick with Lyons or likely turn to right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who has been strong in long relief. In 12 2/3 innings out of the 'pen, Villanueva has allowed just four hits and one earned run.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.