June 3, 2009
By David Driver
Used with permission
BALTIMORE — Last season, right-hander Brandon Lyon converted on 15 straight save opportunities and, at one point, went 24 games in a row without allowing a run.
The Taylorsville High School graduate had a career-high 26 saves for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 but lost his closer's role by the end of the year. And he eventually had to find a new employer, which Lyon did when he signed a one-year contract as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers in January.
Lyon, a Salt Lake City native, has been used primarily as a setup man this season for Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
"It has not been that big of an adjustment," said Lyon, standing in the Tigers' clubhouse during a recent road trip to Baltimore. "I came here to help the team win."
Lyon, 29, said he had options to sign with other teams, which he declined to identify. But he was certain what team he wanted to play for.
"There were other teams and I had a decision to make," he said. "When it came down to the end of it, I didn't want to go to some team for one year that I didn't think had a chance to win. I wanted to come here and do whatever I can do to help this team win and get to the postseason."
In games through Tuesday, the Tigers (28-22) were in first place in the Central Division of the American League, 31/2 games ahead of second-place Minnesota, while Lyon was 1-3 with an ERA of 5.70 in 19 appearances out of the bullpen.
In 232?3 innings pitched, he had allowed 22 hits (five homers) and 15 runs with 13 walks and 10 strikeouts. He had one save opportunity early in the season, which he failed to convert.
Lyon spent the past four seasons with Arizona, but he said his exposure to the American League lessened the adjustment of coming to a team where he had few if any contacts with players, coaches or front office staff.
Lyon, drafted by Toronto in 1999 out of Dixie Junior College, made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in 2001 and also pitched one year for Boston before going to Arizona.
The St. George resident entered this season with a lifetime mark of 21-29 and 51 saves in 309 Major League games. He was a starter for Toronto in 2001-02 before becoming a reliever with the Red Sox in 2003.
Justin Verlander, one of the top starters for the Tigers, said Lyon has been a welcome addition to the staff.
"He brings a veteran presence. That means a lot," said Verlander, who started and earned a victory here Saturday over the Orioles. "I know the results have not been what he wanted so far."
Detroit hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, the former manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said Lyon can only get better.
"I think he is finding his niche," McClendon said. "When he has command of his pitches, he can be darn tough on hitters. He is fun to watch. I look for him to be better in the second half and be a force in the bullpen for us."
Lyon ranked ninth among National League relievers with just 2.53 walks per nine innings from 2006-08. Back in the American League, in his last six appearances since May 19, he has allowed three earned runs and six hits in eight innings of work.
"It's a new team. When you come to spring training, you don't know what to expect," Lyon said. "You try to get comfortable and get to know everyone. They are great competitors and great players. Everyone here contributes every day."
Lyon said pitching for Leyland, considered one of the best managers in the game, has been a treat.
"Jim is well respected. He fights for his players. He is a player's manager," Lyon said. "With him, you are serious when it is time to be serious and have fun when it is time to have fun."
The Detroit pitching coach is Rick Knapp, a former Virginia Tech pitcher in his first year on the job after 12 years as a minor league instructor with the Minnesota Twins.
"Rick has done a great job as far as his mindset, which is get ahead, throw strikes and don't walk too many and you will be fine," Lyon said.
Lyon has had success as a closer in "The Show" but there is no guarantee he will get that chance in Detroit, where Fernando Rodney, 32, is currently the Tigers' closer and converted on his first nine save chances this season. He has been with the Tigers since 2002.
"I was happy for Fernando and he deserves that opportunity," Lyon said. "He has been in Detroit for years. I am the new guy here."
Does Lyon think he may still get a chance to close out some games?
"I don't know," he said. "It is a long season. When I get on the field, I do what I have to do. All of that stuff is not for me to decide. I just go out every day and pitch."