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Pirates

Pirates expect RHP Jordan Lyles to pitch out of rotation, per GM Neal Huntington

Chris Adamski
| Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, 2:48 p.m.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have officially signed pitcher Jordan Lyles to a one-year deal.
John Bazemore/AP
The Pittsburgh Pirates have officially signed pitcher Jordan Lyles to a one-year deal.

The Pittsburgh Pirates made the signing of free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles official Monday, and general manager Neal Huntington confirmed the former high draft pick is projected to earn a spot in the 2019 starting rotation.

“We believe we can continue to build on (Lyles’ late-2018) success here,” Huntington said, “and he’s going to come in and be in our rotation, although we like Steven Brault and Nick Kingham as options as well. But if Jordan continues to pitch well like he did in Milwaukee (late in the 2018 season), we will have strong rotation and strong bullpen to complement it.”

The Pirates’ top four starters are set with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. The trade of Ivan Nova earlier this month opened up a spot for Lyles, who signed for a reported $2.05 million for 2019.

After having success with a host of other high-pedigree pitchers whose production had dropped — A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton, Nova and others — the Pirates are hoping to strike gold again with Lyles.

“It was a good match from the start,” Lyles said joining the Pirates. “We just had to get the numbers to add up, and I am glad we were able to.”

The numbers that added up for the Pirates in pursuing Lyles concerned his increased usage of his curveball and four-seam fastball in 2018, which led to the best numbers of his career in traditional (ERA, WHIP, strikeout rate) and advanced (ERA+, FIP, WAR) metrics.

Lyles said it was after he was acquired by Milwaukee in August that Brewers brass sat him down and showed him numbers that proved getting away from his cutter/slider and relying more on the four-seamer and curveball would help him.

It did. Lyles had 22 strikeouts as opposed to 12 hits and nine walks in 16 1/3 innings coming out of the Brewers bullpen down the stretch, holding opponents to a .288 slugging percentage.

“First and foremost, (the adjustments) just made my job a little easier, having a Iittle more certainty in what I’m doing,” Lyles said.

According to the Pirates, Lyles threw his four-seamer 34 percent of the time in 2018, up from 29 percent in 2017. His curveball usage also increased significantly last season (29 percent, vs. 20 percent in 2017) — important, because the curve provided Lyles with the highest swing-and-miss rate of any pitch in his arsenal (29 percent).

Per numbers provided by the Pirates, 45 of Lyles’ 84 strikeouts in 2018 came via the curveball, a pitch batters chased 37 percent of the time (up from 25 percent in 2017).

“The game is trending to more breaking balls,” Lyles said.

Lyles, 28, went 3-4 with a 4.11 ERA last season and has a 5.28 career ERA for four teams over eight MLB seasons since being taken 38th overall in the 2008 draft.

Huntington credited pitching coach Ray Searage and his staff along with catcher Francisco Cervelli, for the Pirates’ reputation for resurrecting pitchers’ careers. Although the reclamation-project niche is one the Pirates used to own virtually to themselves, other higher-revenue teams are beginning to exploit it, too.

“No one hits on everything they do,” Huntington said, “and it has become more challenging as more teams are diving into this market with more money and more ability to take a larger part of their payroll and put it into this type of … not high-risk but medium-risk kind of venture.

“It’s made our job more challenging, but Jordan is a guy we have liked for a while, and we’re looking forward to helping him take that next step in his career, taking the progress he had in Milwaukee and turning him into a very good starting pitcher with the Pirates this year.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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