After missing '16, Lynn returns to mound

Cards counting on righty to regain workhorse form

After missing '16, Lynn returns to mound

JUPITER, Fla. -- Though it had been more than 15 months since Lance Lynn last faced big league hitters, the Cardinals' right-hander described Monday's spring debut as much more a necessity than an occasion.

But whether or not Lynn acknowledged it publicly, his return to the mound was significant to the Cardinals, who need Lynn to reassert himself as a workhorse. Lynn had made three Minor League rehab appearances late last season, but Monday felt like his official return.

He threw two innings, scattered four singles, surrendered one run and walked one in a 5-4 split-squad win against the Nationals. Lynn pushed his pitch count to 35 (28 for strikes) in what was the first of an expected six spring starts.

"He really looked under control," said bench coach David Bell, who managed the Cards. "He looked like he had a good tempo and was really under control and comfortable. I think that's a big step for him just to get back there on the mound."

Lynn ready for 2017

The timing of Lynn's reconstructive elbow surgery (November 2015) allowed for the right-hander to complete his rehab work early in the offseason, rest as he normally would in the winter months and then ramp up without restriction this spring. The fact that the process has gone without a hiccup is a relief to the Cards, who view him as a needed piece in a rotation that was without a 200-inning pitcher last season.

"The experience he's had and the style pitcher he is, he's a guy who could bring a lot to our club," manager Mike Matheny said. "I'm anxious to have him back."

This may be the final year the Cardinals have him, too. Lynn will be pitching not only to push St. Louis back into the postseason, but also to set himself up for a lucrative payday at season's end. This is the final year of Lynn's three-year deal.

His spring debut featured plenty of fastballs, which shouldn't surprise anyone, as fastballs accounted for 85 percent of Lynn's pitches in 2015. Though he's always had an affinity for that pitch, Lynn hadn't thrown it that frequently before. A structurally unsound elbow, however, left him with little else in his repertoire.

Lynn is now healthy enough to reintroduce his other pitches -- a slider, curveball and changeup -- as needed.

"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get people out," Lynn said. "If that involves throwing all fastballs, I will. If I have to mix it up, I will. But I've had some pretty good success with the fastball, so I'm going to keep [throwing it].

"If you like what you like, just go ahead and eat it. It's like having a buffet line. Just go get what you eat. Don't worry about the rest of it."

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