JUPITER, Fla. -- Though too overwhelmed by the moment to appreciate it at the time, Tyler Lyons can now look back at Sept. 30, 2015, and see his own potential.
He threw seven shutout innings that night in Pittsburgh, making it not only his best Major League start, but also the most impactful. That spot-start victory eliminated the Pirates from the National League Central race, sealed a 100-win season and set off a division-clinching celebration for the Cards.
"That was very special," Lyons recalled. "It's up there with my Major League debut. It was fun to have an opportunity to be a part of something like that and get to contribute."
Lyons hopes he'll continue contributing, though his status as an out-of-options player puts him in a unique place this spring. He'll build up as a starter, but could well end up in the bullpen if the Cardinals' rotation remains healthy. What Lyons cannot do is be optioned to Triple-A without the Cardinals first exposing him to every other team via waivers. He'd likely be claimed, which gives the Cardinals even more reason to try to find a role for Lyons on the Major League roster.
"When we had him during the season, I thought he was one of the most improved players that we had," manager Mike Matheny said. "That last game, I think, is going to stick in all of our minds, just how special it was and how it showed what could be."
Lyons has made 20 starts for the Cardinals over the last three seasons and another 20 relief appearances during that span. He's almost always been a placeholder. Perhaps, now, he'll find a more permanent role.
The Cardinals are intrigued by Lyons' relief potential. He posted a 2.95 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 18 1/3 innings out of the 'pen last season. He'd offer the club flexibility in that role, too, with his ability to pitch multiple innings. The fact that he's a lefty could also be attractive, given that the Cardinals currently project to have only one other -- Kevin Siegrist -- in the bullpen.
"I have no problem with that," Lyons said of a possible bullpen fit. "I'm just looking to find a spot to pitch."
To prove himself deserving of a spot on the Opening Day roster, Lyons intends to focus specifically on working down in the zone with more consistency this spring. Whether it's in Grapefruit League play or on a back field throwing a side session, Lyons is aiming low.
The payoff, he believes, would be in seeing his home run rate drop. The long ball has long bitten Lyons. Last year, he served up 12 homers in 60 innings.
"There have not been a lot of home runs I have given up and been like, 'Eh, that was down. I got beat,'" Lyons said. "A lot of those pitches have been up in the zone and catching a lot of the plate. No wonder that got hit out of here."