On Friday night, Lance Lynn took the ball against the Washington Nationals and added another gem to his streak of quality performances this season. The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander no-hit the Nationals into the sixth inning, and ultimately pitched eight shutout innings with eight strikeouts, no walks and just two hits allowed. The victory against Jordan Zimmermann's own remarkable start came after Lynn held a red-hot Toronto Blue Jays lineup to two runs in his last start.
Lynn now owns a 3.16 ERA on the season with a 3.39 FIP that indicates there is little to no luck involved with his first 14 starts of 2014. With Shelby Miller somewhat struggling after his strong 2013 season, and early-season shoulder problems for Jaime Garcia, Lynn has grown into an important part of the Cardinals' rotation. With eyes on him, Lynn has performed remarkably well, and if he wasn't pitching in one of the strongest rotations in baseball, he could be in consideration for the elusive "top-of-the-rotation pitcher" title.
But over the last couple of seasons, Lynn can only be described as a solid starter. He was far from an ace-type starter, and it's been easy for him to fly under the radar playing alongside teammates Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Miller and Michael Wacha. One could call Lynn underrated, but the fact is that fan expectations rarely had him as more than a mid-rotation starter.
Lynn wanted to change those expectations this offseason, and he showed up to spring training looking like a strikingly different and leaner pitcher. He lost a lot of weight and it was difficult to even recognize who he was at first sight.
Every February and March, dozens of players show up to camp claiming they're in the best shape of their lives, and occasionally a new diet or workout regimen will contribute to a player's performance on the field. CC Sabathia made headlines the last few spring trainings by showing up significantly slimmer. Hopes for Sabathia were high, but the southpaw ultimately had the worst season of his career in 2013 and his velocity has continued to drop while his command has wavered.
Sabathia is one example to other players that you shouldn't fix what's not broken, but Lynn now exudes the opposite message.
Similar to Sabathia, Lynn showed up to camp this offseason much lighter. On recommendation of the Cardinals' chef, Lynn has changed his dieting habits and cut out refined carbohydrates and fats. In March, Lynn's fastball wasn't necessarily any harder, his command didn't significantly improve, but the pitcher clearly looked healthier and leaner.
Lynn's new fitness may not show up on a velocity gun, but it's showing up in his numbers. In fact, his success dieting could be an inspiration for many other teams to follow-up with their own nutritional guidelines for players. Most importantly for the thinner and healthier Lynn, Cardinals fans certainly knew who was on the mound Friday night.
Michael Eder writes for It's About the Money, a blog on the New York Yankees.