Lyons works into valuable role in Cards' pen

Lyons works into valuable role in Cards' pen

SEATTLE -- Despite having thrown just 15 pitches since June 8, lefty Tyler Lyons entered Saturday's game and provided a season-high 4 2/3 innings in relief to preserve the rest of the Cardinals' bullpen in a 5-4 loss to the Mariners, buying time for the offense to attempt to peck away.

It's all part of the long relief role that Lyons wasn't necessarily earmarked for when he earned a 'pen spot out of Spring Training, but one that manager Mike Matheny seems particularly comfortable using the left-hander in now. Lyons has become the bullpen's de facto innings eater, which explains the sparse usage of Lyons over the last several weeks. He's made five appearances this month.

The long relief role was expected to be filled by Rule 5 pick Matt Bowman, until Bowman pitched his way into more high-leverage opportunities with a strong season start. That has left Lyons, one of two lefties in the Cardinals' bullpen, often biding his time in case an extended relief opportunity arises.

"We didn't know if we were going to have the guys in the back end that were going to be able to get left-handers out," manager Mike Matheny said of Lyons' changing role. "I think it can still evolve, too, to where he can come in and face the tough lefties. The other part of that is we have an opportunity to use him in the long situations to where he's good for 50, 60 pitches. That's a nice weapon for us to have."

Nine of Lyons' 20 appearances this season have been more than one inning in length. The role, however, also has produced irregular work. He's gone at least six days in between outings four different times, and half of Lyons' appearances have come on at least four days of rest.

"I think I've done it enough now over the last couple years where I have stretches without throwing that I kind of have an idea what I need to do," Lyons said. "Sometimes as we go along through those stretches, I throw harder [during pregame work]. I throw more. I do a couple things like that just to stay ready."

WORTH NOTING:

• Catcher Brayan Pena will wrap up his Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday as it hits the maximum 20 days in length. The Cardinals will have to make a determination about where to move him at that time. The expectation is that Pena will rejoin the big-league team on Monday, likely taking the roster spot that has been filled by Eric Fryer since the start of the season.

• Right-hander Corey Baker shined in his Triple-A debut on Saturday as he allowed four hits and struck out six over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He earned the win, which was helped by an RBI single by Randal Grichuk. Baker was a 49th-round pick by the Cardinals in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.