Report From The Fort: Learning About Lance Lynn
"I'm just looking forward to pitching," Lynn said when kicking off his presser, adding that he'd been prepping for the occasion with live bullpens and sim games. Luckily he didn't have to wait long.
Despite getting a late start to spring camp, the 30-year-old exhibited no signs of rust in a masterful Grapefruit League debut against the Orioles. He pounded the zone and on multiple occasions his fastball touched 94 MPH, a number rarely seen on the Hammond scoreboard this month.
Lynn opened his outing with a pair of swinging strikeouts and wound up hanging K's on half of the 10 Baltimore batters he faced in three near-perfect innings.
"I walked a guy, so that sucked," Lynn said with a smirk afterwards. "Other than that everything was about as smooth as possible."
His new manager thought so too. Paul Molitor summarized the performance in one word: "Attack."
"You're not sure how sharp his command was going to be, but he poured it in there pretty good and he just kept throwing it."
Here are some of the key takeaways I distilled from talking to Lynn and others around the park.
He’s a Notoriously Intense Competitor
This is a reputation Lynn brings over from his days in St. Louis. He’s well known as a player who likes to win and – even more so – hates to lose.
He has a fiery presence on the mound and is expressive when frustrated. "You wanna get out of his way," said Derek Falvey.
Lynn is aware of the perception, and addressed it in Derrick Goold’s profile for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last summer:
“Early on in my career, it was my personality and my desire to win that looked like a bad attitude,” Lynn said. “Now, it looks like I’m a bulldog. I think the more success you have the more things are accepted in this sport. I would have high highs and low lows. I had to find a way to be in between, and then I could be myself.”
In other words, he recognizes that being visibly upset when things go awry can come off as sulky if it's happening too often. Fortunately, Lynn hasn't experienced all that many downs in a career that's yielded a 3.38 ERA over six seasons – making his trouble finding work this winter all the more flummoxing.
When asked if his slow offseason, which culminated in a deal much smaller than anyone initially expected, put a chip on his shoulder, the right-hander shrugged.
“That chip on the shoulder has been there since the day I was born,” he said.
But while he won’t admit it frontally, there’s little doubt that being snubbed by the market will add extra fuel to his motivation, as will the fact that he’s once again auditioning for his next contract.
He Can Reach Back For Something Extra
I was a little surprised to see Lynn flash 94 on the gun multiple times during his first spring start. He hasn't been in that range regularly with the four-seamer since 2014.
"I've got a lot in there that I don't like to show unless I have to," he said after the outing.
Given his heavy reliance on fastballs, even an extra sliver of velocity can make a big difference. It's probably no coincidence during that aforementioned 2014 campaign when he routinely operated at 93-94 with his four-seam and 92+ with his sinker, he worked a career-high 203 2/3 innings with career lows in ERA (2.74) and WHIP (1.26).
He Doesn’t Mind the Cold
The weather for Lynn’s first spring start was on the chilly side, at least by the standards of southwest Florida in March. Cool winds swirled throughout the morning, and the temperature barely eclipsed 60 degrees by game time.
Of course, he’ll likely experience lower temps during the early and late parts of the season in Minnesota, where he has never pitched in his career. He embraces it.
“I like the cold,” he quickly responded during his press conference when asked about what attracted him to the Twins. He added that growing up in Indianapolis instilled this in him.
Lynn isn’t the first free agent acquisition to express an affinity for pitching in brisk conditions (Erv) but we’ve also seen it go the other way; Ricky Nolasco wasn't shy about voicing his displeasure about the cold.
Unlike Santana, who grew up pitching in the Dominican Republic, and spent all but one season of his pre-Twins MLB career in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Lynn had formative experiences in cooler climates. That could play well for a team with aspirations of playing into October.
His Arrival Erased Any Slim Hopes for a Rookie to Come North
This isn't so much a fact about Lynn as the ripple effect of his signing. About an hour before his press conference got underway, the Twins announced they’d optioned five pitchers to the minors, including fringe rotation candidates Adalberto Mejia, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero and Aaron Slegers.
Of that group, only Mejia had a realistic shot of breaking camp in the rotation – and he’s no rookie anymore. But Romero was making about as good a case as he possibly could for a spot on the staff, spreading eight hitless innings across four appearances with eight strikeouts and one walk.
With his success throwing in short bursts, there was some thought the Twins might try to sneak him in as a reliever, but they are rightfully sending him back to Double-A to keep developing in his most impactful role.
"We see him as a starter," Falvey said on Tuesday morning, repeating it for emphasis. "We see him as a starter, despite the 1-2 inning stints this spring that looked pretty good."
The Twins are setting up to boast a rather loaded rotation at Triple-A, and figure to have no shortage of reinforcements on hand over the course of the summer with Santana and Trevor May factoring in as well as the prospects. That is, of course, by design.
"Depth in the rotation is the goal," Molitor said. "I think we've achieved that with flying colors."
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