06/01/11 1:06 AM ET
Lyles rises to expectations in debut
By Brian Hedger / MLB.com
On the night the 20-year old Astros rookie became the youngest active player in the Majors, Lyles took the ball from third baseman Chris Johnson before the bottom of the first inning at historic Wrigley Field and just stood behind the mound for a moment.
"I just took it all in," said Lyles, who was in control of his pitches for most of the seven-plus innings he wound up throwing on Tuesday. "I just wanted to take it in and experience this. It couldn't get much better."
Actually, it could've been a little better. The highly regarded Lyles could've picked up a win in the 7-3 Astros victory. Instead, he settled for a no-decision and afterward said he "didn't care" about not getting the 'W' or even how he pitched -- which for seven innings was impressive.
Lyles, who throws four pitches for strikes almost at will, used his mound moxie and repertoire to dodge trouble in the first, second and fifth innings following extra-base hits.
He even fanned Geovany Soto and Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano to end the fifth with Blake DeWitt standing on third base, prompting Zambrano to snap his bat over his knee and storm back to the dugout.
"I heard it and then I looked and saw the rest of it," Lyles said of Zambrano's broken lumber. "That's pretty cool. That's my first and probably going to be my only one. The guy's a great pitcher and a great athlete."
Astros manager Brad Mills and his teammates spouted similar compliments about Lyles, who struck out four, walked none and threw 62 of his 92 pitches for strikes. Everything seemed to be going perfectly -- including Lyles getting his first Major League hit in the seventh -- before things went haywire in the eighth.
Soto doubled on a 3-2 count before Lyles made his first big mistake. He fielded a sacrifice bunt by Tyler Colvin near the third-base line and threw wildly to Chris Johnson at third attempting to get Soto. Instead, the ball deflected off Johnson's glove into left field, allowing Soto to tie the game at 1 and sparking a three-run rally that had Lyles on the hook for the loss.
Instead, his teammates bailed him out from that potential outcome with a six-run ninth inning against Cubs closer Carlos Marmol. Still, aside from the throwing error, Lyles gave a clear glimpse at his lofty potential.
"He lived up to every expectation of every Astros fan, the organization, management and everything," Mills said. "He was great. He's mature beyond his years and he has mound presence beyond his years -- and you saw it tonight."
Lyles, whose parents were in the stands, already built a reputation for being calm, cool and collected while in the Minors. It was more of the same against the Cubs. It didn't matter that he was pitching in his first big league game. It didn't matter that he surpassed 20-year old Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro to become the youngest player in the Majors. It didn't matter that he got into a little trouble early.
All that mattered was mixing up his pitches and getting outs. Lyles looked unflappable early, nixing a threat in the first after a two-out triple by Castro by inducing an inning-ending popup on the first pitch to Carlos Pena.
In the second, He made a long leadoff double by Aramis Ramirez go for naught by getting the next three hitters. That's when Lyles settled into a rhythm, retiring the next nine in a row.
He even made it look easy in the fourth against the heart of the Cubs -- striking out Castro, getting Pena to ground weakly to first and inducing Ramirez into a popup to first.
In short, Lyles was dealing, and doing it with the nerve of a 10-year veteran. It was no different than what he showed in Spring Training and in 10 starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"He's a calm guy," said veteran catcher Robinson Cancel, who caught Lyles six times with the RedHawks and again on Tuesday night. "He's a very patient guy."
Cancel compared Lyles favorably to St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in his approach, only not quite as hard-throwing.
"He's got four pitches and throws all of them for strikes, anytime he wants," Cancel said. "As a 20-year-old, I think he's ahead [in his career track]."
Mills agreed wholeheartedly.
"Besides having good stuff and being a good pitcher, that's kind of one thing that really separates him, the way he handles himself and does things not to beat himself," Mills said. "That's to his credit and that's one of the reasons he's going to be such a good pitcher."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.