A prolific hitter in high school, Hooks right-hander Jordan Lyles
would love to step to the plate more often in the pros -- he'd just have to do one thing for his manager first.
"If he wants to guarantee me 20 years and a salary, I'll let him pinch-hit, because that would be the last move I make," said Corpus Christi manager Wes Clements.
Clearly, Lyles is in the Houston Astros organization to pitch. He was taken out of Hartsville (S.C.) High School as the 38th overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- on his graduation night no less -- and has been a fast mover on the mound ever since.
Lyles, who will turn 20 in October, was second in the South Atlantic League with 167 strikeouts at Lexington last season and leapfrogged the Class A Advanced level to open this year with Corpus Christi. Lyles, 6-5 in 14 appearances for the Hooks, is second in the league with 85 strikeouts and tied for fourth with a 2.60 ERA.
The only problem for Lyles, still a hitter at heart after batting .447 his senior year of high school, is that half the league features American League affiliates, and he has to step aside for a designated hitter way too often for his liking.
"Not hitting," said Lyles when asked about his toughest adjustment to professional baseball. "Not playing football, not playing basketball. Just baseball year around."
Lyles, also a record-setting high school football receiver, led Hartsville to a 2007 state championship in baseball, going 6-1 with a 0.85 ERA. He was 7-2 with a 1.86 ERA as a senior -- not to mention his six home runs and 20 RBIs.
So, it livens things up considerably for Lyles when he gets the chance to bat for himself these says. Thus he scans the schedule, checks the Hooks' rotation and crosses his fingers that he'll get the nod against National League affiliates San Antonio (San Diego Padres), Springfield (St. Louis Cardinals) and Tulsa (Colorado Rockies).
The pitchers hit in those games, while any game involving an American League affiliate uses the designated hitter. Lyles, 1-for-8 with four strikeouts this season, is not above pestering Clements to let him pinch-hit on his off-days.
"He's a natural competitor," Clements said. "He wants to hit more than he wants to pitch. He asks me to pinch-hit three or four times a week. I keep telling him I like my job too much."
Clements' fears are not unfounded. Consider one of Lyles' rare plate appearances.
"He hit a ball in San Antonio after I just told him, 'If you hit a ball and you think you can get a hit, I don't want you running 200 percent down to first base.'" Clements said. "Of course, he did. He ran his butt off.
"He was coming back to the bench -- he was out, it was a close play -- keep in mind this was in the middle of a complete-game, 104-pitch win against San Antonio, and he was more concerned about the hit that he didn't get than anything else."
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Lyles just shrugs off such episodes. They are few and far between after all, and he just can't help himself.
"It's tough sometimes, but I signed as a pitcher and I know my future is pitching," Lyles said. "It's always fun to go out there and swing it a little bit. I just give our manager a hard time and play around with him."
Lyles certainly isn't letting his passion for hitting creep into his pitching. He hopes to refine his curveball by the end of the season and said he took a step forward at Lexington last year when he began to work both sides of the plate effectively.
"When I was in high school, I wasn't too much of a pitcher. I was just throwing," Lyles said. "I realized I had to go inside to change levels and all that kind of stuff, so last year going inside was a big plus for me, and it led me to where I am now."
Clements said Lyles had a plus-plus changeup, and while his fastball isn't overpowering, his command makes up for it.
"He doesn't throw 95, but his delivery is a little different," Clements said. "Big, tall kid, and 90 at the knees works pretty good. It works pretty good in the big leagues."
Lyles said it was tough at first to be a young player just out of high school and devote most of his year to baseball, but it helped to spend some time in the South Atlantic League, close to home.
"You're away from your family and friends," Lyles said. "Besides that, it's been pretty easy to make an adjustment. It's gone well, so far."
Just don't blame Lyles' desire to hit on the restlessness of youth. "The kid just wants to win," Clements said, "and he gives his team a pretty good chance."
When he's on the mound, that is.
"I know every time he has the ball, his teammates think we're going to win," Clements said. "He'll tell me he's got his spikes in the dugout in case I need somebody to hit."
Have a seat: Northwest Arkansas slugger Mike Moustakas served a one-game suspension Friday night for his ejection and ensuing actions during a 12-10 victory over Tulsa on June 23. Moustakas, the Naturals' third baseman and the Texas League's leading hitter, was ejected when he told third-base umpire Alex Ortiz to keep an eye out at second base, where Moustakas claimed teammate Johnny Giavotella had been spiked. After his ejection Moustakas confronted Ortiz, who reacted as if he had been bumped, which led to Moustakas' suspension.
Cramping out: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were hoping that Trevor Reckling would regain his form at Arkansas, where he had a breakthrough year last season. But in his first start with Arkansas on Sunday, after being reassigned from Triple-A Salt Lake, Reckling faced just four hitters, striking out three, before leaving with a cramp in his left biceps. Arkansas manager Bobby Magallanes and pitching coach Ken Patterson said Reckling, pitching in 98-degree game-time temperatures, was probably going to be fine but would undergo further examinations. With the Bees, Reckling was 4-7 with an 8.53 ERA. At Arkansas last year he was 8-7 with a 2.93 ERA, earning a Texas League All-Star and Futures Game selection with the Travelers.
Cruise control: Frisco right-hander Blake Beavan got his league-leading 10th victory in 16 starts as the RoughRiders beat Corpus Christi, 6-3, on Sunday. Beavan allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out three without issuing a walk as Frisco won its sixth straight game.