Jordan Lyles as leader and mentor: He embraces that role

When the Orioles pinned a loss on Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole on Monday, it was a credit to their hitters to beat such a talented pitcher. But it was also in large part because their pitcher, right-hander Jordan Lyles, dueled head-to-head evenly with Cole for his second straight start.

The Orioles went 1-1 in those two games, but outscored the Yankees 8-7 in the Lyles versus Cole games. Lyles went 13 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and five earned runs for an ERA of 3.29.

Lyles has been a leader and gamer for the Orioles, going 3-4 with an ERA of 4.10. He has thrown six innings or more in four of his past five starts. He wants the ball and and threw 117 pitches Monday night at Yankee Stadium. That is leadership by example for the other pitchers. The next night left-hander Bruce Zimmermann went a career-high 6 1/3 innings.

But for the 31-year-old Lyles, a player with over 10 years of major league service, he is happy to provide leadership and mentorship to the O’s pitching staff in the four days when he is not pitching, as well. It’s a role he embraces and a role when he was a younger pitcher that he wanted to have some day.

“I have always wanted to be, especially in the second half of my career, a guy that younger guys can lean on for questions on and off the field,” Lyles told me recently at Oriole Park. “There is a lot more that goes into things than just being on the bump and pitching with our major league lifestyle. I think the mental side of things is an area where I’m pretty good with talking to guys about. And then also on the physical side when analytics came into the game I kind of jumped on board a couple of years ago. So even though I am older, I can still relate to them on an analytical standpoint. I can relate to the young guys multiple ways.

“So, with two sets of pitchers, the starters and relievers, the starters are around each other all the time. We’re going to have more day in and day out conversations, more small talk. But relievers, you get to know those guys during BP and plane rides and guys you locker by. Just over time guys get more comfortable as the season goes on and they feel more comfortable to come up to me and ask questions. I’m here when they need me, and I take pride in trying to help them or in leading them in the direction that will help them best.”

Several O’s pitchers have praised Lyles for his leadership this year as has manager Brandon Hyde, who clearly is gaining trust in Lyles to be the innings eater they signed him to be.

“Being the oldest guy in the rotation, every club needs that, especially with how young we are starting and relieving," Lyles added. "Just someone to lean on, not just physically with what we do on the mound. Every team may have someone like that, some teams have multiple guys usually. Not too many of me here, more on the position player side with (Robinson) Chirinos and (Rougned) Odor and Trey (Mancini). But I’m here now and trying to be the best teammate and best starting pitcher and best Oriole I can be."

Over the years when I have asked players who embrace such leader/mentor roles as Lyles does with the Orioles, why they do that, they have often cited that players once did that for them.

When I asked Lyles if that were the case this season with him in Baltimore, he paused for quite a few seconds before answering.

“No. When I came up they were kind of rough,” he said. “I learned in a different way. I would say that.”

Lyles was drafted No. 38 overall in the 2008 draft by Houston out of Hartsville High School in South Carolina. By 2011, he was in the majors. The Orioles are the seventh different big league team he has played for.

“I’m big on making guys comfortable, especially the first-year guys that come into this big league clubhouse. I want them to be respectful, but I will go out of my way to make them comfortable and help them celebrate what they accomplished to make it here. Back then it wasn’t like that. Not just for me personally, but the game of baseball. It wasn’t celebrated as much as it should be.

“I want guys to get their feet wet, be respectful of everyone in this clubhouse and the game of baseball. And honestly just help them get started and hopefully they have the best career they can possibly have."

So if young players were not celebrated as much years ago, what changed?

“Probably because the game of baseball has gotten younger. There are not as many 30, mid 30s guys hanging around. But just the game in general is getting younger," Lyles said. 



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