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Lyles' grip on starting job might be slipping

The SportsXchange

The Houston Astros entered spring training with two open spots in a rotation that ranked among the worst in the major leagues last season in several key categories.

Houston has received little clarity since workouts began, and the initial stage of exhibition games has revealed a potential hole in the middle of the starting group.

Right-hander Jordan Lyles was battered during his first three spring training appearances, posting an 0-3 record with a staggering 25.20 ERA. The 22-year-old allowed 14 earned runs and 20 hits in just five innings, bringing into question whether Lyles is still a lock for the Astros' No. 3 spot. Lyles' standing in the rotation was once a given, but first-year manager Bo Porter slightly opened the door at the start of spring training.

Lyles' March 8 start was his most disappointing. After intentionally splitting the plate during his initial two exhibition outings, the righty took the mound against Atlanta with a more regular-season-like approach. He didn't make it out of the first inning. Lyles gave up six runs and seven hits in just two-thirds of a inning, leaving the mound in a lopsided game that saw the Braves beat the Astros 14-9.

"I'm out there still competing. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying, 'Here's the ball. Hit it as far as you can.' But guys are going to see the box score and they're not going to be happy," said Lyles, who went 5-12 with a 5.09 ERA last season but finished the year strong.

Lyles said he isn't dealing with any arm issues. He's unsure whether he's hitting his normal velocity, but Lyles said the ball has never felt better coming out of his hand during spring training.

Lyles spent his initial two spring starts throwing strikes, and he gave up 10 hits and six earned runs in two innings during a Feb. 26 loss to Tampa Bay. However, he entered the Braves contest saying he wasn't concerned about his numbers, stressing he was sticking to a pitching schedule timed with his regular-season debut in early April.

Lyles spent the subsequent few days working on his mechanics with pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Dennis Martinez.

Porter said Lyles has been elevating his pitches, leading to sharp contact. Still, the club is not overly concerned with Lyles' shaky start, and the righty will continue to make regular appearances in the rotation.

"There's still a lot of time left in spring training, and we feel very confident that he'll be ready to go when the season starts," Porter said.
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