BALTIMORE — Jordan Lyles, cruising, had just completed his sixth inning. Walking back into the dugout, he didn’t lock eyes with his manager, Brandon Hyde, telling him he might have another inning at his disposal.
Even after his seventh, worked up to 106 pitches, Lyles would have liked one more. He “asked [Hyde] nicely,” but was met with a handshake and job well done.
No matter. To that point already, amid the Orioles’ 3-2 loss to the Yankees at Camden Yards, Lyles had flashed plenty of the old-school pitching demeanor Baltimore hoped to see from him, their biggest offseason addition and now top starter due to the loss of John Means following Tommy John surgery.
“It’s for the boys,” Lyles said. “For the boys out in the bullpen. For the boys, always. When in doubt, try and scratch out another one.”
The ideal rotation the Orioles forecasted this season had Means reclaiming his ace status atop the group, followed by Lyles. Come the end of the summer, top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall likely would join them. Add breakout sensation Bruce Zimmermann, and Baltimore’s pitching, already performing admirably, would have been providing intriguing looks from top to bottom — not the flashiest, but a rock-steady group of arms.
Part of that is still possible. Means, though, will not be a factor, progressing well from Tommy John surgery but not expected back in the fold until partway into the 2023 campaign. Rodriguez and Hall, on the other hand, continue to tear up the Minors, their callups just a matter of time from happening. Zimmermann, for his part, has made a lot of fans in his hometown.
And Lyles? He continues to be as advertised.
“He’s doing what we thought he was going to do,” Hyde said. “This is an extremely tough division to pitch in. He’s answered the bell every time. He’s given us a chance to win every time out.”
With seven innings of three-run ball (two earned runs) and a season-high eight strikeouts, Lyles owns a 3.12 ERA through four starts in May. Through four starts at home on the year? That mark is just 2.10.
Wednesday night — working past a wild pitch that saw two runs score as part of a three-run first inning — might have been his best of them all.
“It’s up there, somewhere,” Lyles said. “I’m not sure, game by game, which is best. We hit a lot of corners tonight with our stuff. Even though they weren’t breaking a lot, they were still hitting corners, and we were getting pretty decent calls. I’m pretty happy with what Anthony [Bemboom] and I did tonight.”
Where Means has left off, Lyles has picked up. His 46 innings on the season stood as the fifth most among qualified American League starters by last out on Wednesday. And he’s doing so by bucking some fateful trends.
Lyles led the Majors with 38 homers allowed last season while leading the AL in earned runs with 100. He’s been aided in part by the Orioles’ moving the left-field wall back this season. (That, for its part, is already a source of bad blood in this series against New York.) All five homers Lyles has conceded on the year have come on the road.
Soon, Lyles will be around to shed some of his wisdom and newfound success with Rodriguez and Hall, that veteran presence a factor in what made Baltimore want to bring him aboard. Kyle Bradish has already gotten the opportunity to try and do so to this point.
What might some of those lessons entail?
“For the boys, it means so much,” Lyles said. “I spent a year or two in the bullpen. When a starter is able to scratch out another one … that means the world to those guys, game after game. It’s a long season. When they can count on you to get deep into games and just wear one for the boys out there, that means a lot. And I’ve always taken that to heart.”