MLB: Utah's Lyon is back velocity intact and pitching again for Astros
Washington • Brandon Lyon is back.
So is his velocity.
Houston's veteran right-hander, who hails from Taylorsville and lives in St. George, began last season as the Astros' designated closer. But he missed the last three months of the season with right biceps tendinitis and a partial right rotator cuff tear. He went on the disabled list June 14 to end his season and underwent surgery June 30 to repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and the tear of his labrum.
Lyon did most of his rehab work at his Utah home this past winter and was able to report to spring training in Florida on time in February.
"I am happy with where I am right now, especially after surgery," Lyon said during the Astros' recent stopover in Washington to play the Nationals. He is 0-1 with an ERA of 3.86 in his first eight outings this year.
Jason Castro, a 24-year-old catcher for Houston, was behind the plate when Lyon threw two scoreless innings out of the bullpen here against Washington in a 6-3 loss to Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals on April 16.
"His pitches were sharp, and his velocity was back up," said Castro, who caught Lyon during his stellar 2010 campaign. "He is a huge asset to have on this team, especially with young guys on the staff. He knows what he is doing out of the bullpen. He helps me, as a young catcher."
Lyon, 32, is in his third season with the Astros but is signed through just this season. He feels, however, that he could play several more years. Lyon and his wife, Sara, have three young children, and he said family could play a role in how long he goes.
"I feel [surgery] has rejuvenated my shoulder, and it is starting to feel better," he said. "I could see playing five, six more years, who knows, as long as I can stay healthy. I feel I am getting better after this injury and recovery-wise."
Growing up in Taylorsville, Lyon had little exposure to Major League Baseball. It took family vacations to Oakland and Kansas City for him to see his first big league games when he was in elementary school.
Lyon was into snow sports and played football, basketball and baseball at Taylorsville High, a traditional state power in baseball. "Taylorsville was known for baseball at that time. Now everybody is playing year-round baseball," he said. "I was into baseball since I was 8."
A strong-armed righty, Lyon said it was at Dixie Junior College that he became a pitcher and not just a thrower under then-pitching coach Dave Littlewood.
"Everything started to click," said Lyon, a high school teammate of Marlins catcher John Buck under former coach Steve Cramblitt. "That was the turning point for me in order to make the ball move more."
But it was not until his first season in the minor leagues when the thought of making it to the major leagues took hold.
"This is a realistic goal for me," he thought at the time, while playing in the short-season New York-Penn League in the Toronto system in 2000. "My goals before that were to try to get better every year and stay healthy."
Twelve years later, Lyon is with his fifth big league team, after stops in Toronto, Boston, Arizona and Detroit, after he made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in 2001.
Lyon was with Arizona in 2007 when the D-backs made it to the playoffs, and the next year he had a career-high 26 saves with the team. He had 20 saves in 22 tries in a career-best 79 outings in his first season with Houston in 2010, but this year he is not the closer for the Astros after an injury limited him to 15 appearances in 2011.
"It is definitely a great feeling when you are that guy" as a closer, he said. "It is where you want to be."
And where he'd like to be again.
Editor's note: David Driver is a freelance writer in Maryland and has covered pro baseball for 20 years. He has contributed to Baseball America and Baseball Digest. He can be reached at http://www.davidsdriver.com.
High school • Taylorsville
Junior college • Dixie
Residence • St. George
Birthplace • Salt Lake City
Team • Houston Astros
Position • Relief pitcher (RH)
Career highlights • 26 saves for the Diamondbacks in 2008 and 20 saves with Houston in 2010; he pitched in five games in the postseason with Arizona in 2007 and allowed no runs and one hit in six total innings.
2012 stats • 0-1 with an ERA of 4.15 in his first five games with the Astros
Career big league stats • 36-44 with an ERA of 4.22 in 473 games, with 21 starts, prior to this season
Big league debut • Aug. 4, 2001 with Toronto
Did you know? • He is the third native of Utah to play for Houston, following pitchers Brandon Duckworth (2004-05) and Jared Fernandez (2003-04).