KANSAS CITY — The last time Royals lefty Daniel Lynch faced the Tigers, he didn’t get out of the third inning. His first stint in the Majors had spiraled on him, and he was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha the next day. His struggles were undeniable, and he had homework to complete before he would return.
Two months later, Lynch was back on the mound in Kansas City. The story was entirely different.
This time, the club’s No. 2 prospect pitched the longest outing by a Royals starter this year — and one of the best.
Lynch cruised through eight scoreless innings Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, pitching the Royals to a 6-1 victory over the Tigers and finalizing a series sweep with their fifth consecutive win.
It marked Lynch’s first career Major League victory and his first team win in the big leagues. When he was promoted the first time on May 3, the Royals were mired in an 11-game losing streak that they snapped the day Lynch was optioned.
“It was really cool to feel that and get fired up and do the stuff in the postgame,” Lynch said after receiving the signature Salvy Splash after the game. “I think I’ll remember that a lot more than my personal performance. It went by really quick. I just felt like I was in the moment.”
While the Royals’ offense spotted Lynch a five-run lead in the first three innings led by two home runs from Jorge Soler in his 3-for-4 day, Sunday was all about the club’s top pitching prospect.
Lynch had command of his fastball. His slider was filthy. His changeup fooled Tigers batters. The 24-year-old lefty allowed just five hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out four, and he controlled the strike zone entirely while trusting his defense to make the plays behind him. Lynch established the outside part of the zone with right-handed hitters and worked ahead in the count for most of the day. The two times he got into jams with runners on base, Lynch got out of it with weak contact and a strikeout with a biting slider that Eric Haase chopped through in the sixth inning.
“You couldn’t even really guess along,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We talk about that attack, and I’m never going to wear out and get tired of talking about that. When you see it, you know it. That’s a guy right there coming at Major League hitters with his best stuff and trust in the execution, trust in the defense.”
Sunday’s start couldn’t have been more different than Lynch’s first stint with Kansas City this year. He pitched eight innings across three May starts and allowed 15 runs (14 earned). The Royals believed Lynch was tipping his pitches, so he was sent back to Triple-A to work on his delivery and mechanics.
The pitcher the Tigers saw Sunday was not the same one they saw on May 13, when they tagged him for four runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Detroit saw a key piece of the Royals’ future.
“They have a lot of hope for him, and I think today he showed why he’s got good stuff,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “A pretty good fastball, and good swing-and-miss secondary stuff. He pounded the strike zone quite a bit, especially early in the count.
“I get why they’re high on him. They should be. We’ll get to see him a ton in this division if he can maintain this kind of stuff.”
Lynch’s first stint didn’t go the way he hoped, but Kansas City never lost its trust in his future. He was sent down with a plan put together by the Major League and development staff — and the message that he would be needed in the bigs again this season.
“Some of the guys in our front office really encouraged me to stick with the process and not get too frustrated,” Lynch said. “Not get too ahead of myself. Just kind of let things play out the way they need to play out.”
As Lynch pounded through Sunday’s game, he maintained the quick tempo that he started with a seven-pitch first inning. He wasn’t worried about how deep he was going to go, only that he executed the next pitch he threw.
“I kept telling myself to just go out there and make pitches,” Lynch said. “Just keep going, one at a time, until they took the ball. I wasn’t really thinking too much about, ‘Oh, it’s the eighth inning.’
“It was, ‘Who’s up, and what do we need to do?’”
That focus was apparent from the time Lynch showed up Sunday morning, and it likely earned him another start in the Royals’ rotation.
“He showed up all business,” Matheny said. “You could tell he had an agenda. And that agenda was to look a lot different than what he did last time.”