On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians jumped on Kansas City Royals starter Daniel Lynch for three runs in the first inning. They tacked on another run in the second, and that turned out to be far more than they needed to secure the win.
As a whole, Lynch pitched six innings of somewhat respectable baseball. He allowed four hits and four earned runs while walking three and striking out five. After inning No. 2, the 24-year-old lefty gave up just one hit. It was a commendable effort by a young pitcher, especially considering how easy it is for players of his relative inexperience to let a bad first couple of frames derail their entire outing. Lynch told the media postgame that he simply found a way to battle through.
"I think as frustrating as it is, just to not really set yourself up to put us in a position to get ahead — as frustrating as that is — I can take away the fact that I know I can battle," Lynch said. "I really didn't have much tonight, I didn't feel like, and I felt like I at least did a good job just to get through six innings. But as a competitor, you don't want to get through six innings. You want to pitch well for six innings or seven innings."
Both Lynch and manager Mike Matheny alluded to the fact that not much outside of Lynch's fastball was useful or present on Tuesday. Lynch said he didn't have command of his slider, the pitch that he's normally complements everything else. He also mentioned that pitchers across MLB likely have a higher ERA in the first inning. That certainly rings true for the Royals, as their starters rank second to last in opponent first-inning runs per game at 0.70. According to Lynch, there isn't a specific rhyme or reason why this is the case.
"I think if you looked across baseball amongst starting pitching, you'd probably see that there's typically, probably a higher ERA in the first inning," Lynch said. "With that being said, I think if you looked at the best pitchers in baseball, their ERA in the first inning is probably pretty low. There's nothing you can really put your finger on, I think it's that you're kind of trying to start to get the feel for the game. It's something I really want to improve on, it's something I'm aware of... I want to work hard to make that my best inning because I think it sets the tone for the rest of the game."
In 2021, Lynch's ERA sits at 5.40. The 6-foot-6 lefty has a 4.85 FIP and is issuing four free passes per nine innings. In 14 starts, he's pitched 65 innings. This mixed bag of a rookie season is far from what Lynch expects out of himself, and he's hopeful that his growth mindset will allow him to use his poor outings as fuel to improve.
"For me, it's really good to allow myself to be frustrated," Lynch said. "After that third inning was about as frustrated as I've been this entire year. Not running away from that I think is important, but also letting that frustration be after the game tonight and then getting up tomorrow and saying, 'what can I do to get better?' Even though it's the end of the year, I'm always trying to get better at something. That never stops."
As the Royals' 2021 season comes to a close and the team builds for 2022, Lynch figures to be a critical part of the starting rotation. Getting his feet wet at the big league level this year was helpful, and he's learned many valuable lessons as he tries to put everything together starting next spring. If there's one thing Tuesday's game taught him, it's that there's always room to get better.