Brandon Lyon's Back... But Where Does He Fit In? And WHY?

By Connor Nielen

Astros reliever Brandon Lyon found himself placed on the disabled list well over a month ago, a move that was made in response to a string of disastrously poor performances from Lyon as Houston’s closer (including blowing Brett Myers’ Opening Day gem in Philadelphia and ultimately his horrific afternoon collapse in Cincinnati).

It was indicated by the team that something was structurally wrong with Lyon’s pitching arm as they immediately placed their closer on the disabled list to further evaluate what was causing the consistently ineffective outings.

Now mid-June, Lyon has been re-inserted into the active roster, apparently fully healed from his alleged bicep tendinitis and a partial rotator cuff tear and whatever else was ailing him to begin 2011.

In Lyon’s absence, young Mark Melancon has stepped up and admirably filled the role of closer for the Astros. I wrote a piece a few weeks ago in which I pleaded for Melancon to remain the 9th-inning stopper, even upon Lyon’s return.

However, Brad Mills & the Houston brass is already talking about “easing Lyon back into the closer’s role” – but it needs to be asked, why? Melancon’s 4-1 this year, with a 1.78 ERA and 6 saves. Unless he proves incapable for the job, should it not be his?

Steve Campbell’s above article on Ultimate Astros features this quote regarding the closing situation:

“Mark’s done a good job for us all year,” Mills said. “He’s going to continue to do a good job for us because he’s got good stuff and he’s a good pitcher. But we want to be able to do things the right way. Doing them the right way is being able to have a veteran guy at the end of the game who has had success in doing that in the past.”

It doesn’t make any sense. Regardless of injury, the matter of fact is that Lyon hasn’t had success at the end of games. He was terrible! Why does it matter if he’s a ‘veteran guy’ or not?

Look in-State at the Texas Rangers – did they not just win a league pennant last season with 22-year old Neftali Feliz closing games for them? What about the Boston Red Sox, who rode a young, flame-throwing Jonathon Papelbon to an ’07 World Series title?

Besides, Melancon’s 26, he’s not exactly a ‘kid’, he’s plenty old enough to handle the responsibility of closing Major League Baseball games, he’s already shown it.

Another thing – maybe it hasn’t been noticed, but the Astros sit dead last in the N.L. Central. They’re not making the playoffs. Does it really matter if a veteran is closing games if they’re rather meaningless anyways?

To add to that, if this team is in a rebuilding phase, shouldn’t they take the opportunity to assess the younger pitcher’s ability in an effort to incorporate him into future bullpen plans so that he’ll be a veteran at a time when they’ll presumably be able to contend?

Here’s the only way it would make sense: perhaps Houston shifts Lyon back into the closer’s role, the team gets a little hot, and the streaky Lyon miraculously finds himself racking up a few saves, crawling above the double-digit mark for the season. At this point, perhaps GM Ed Wade is able to negotiate with a suitor desperate for bullpen help at the trade deadline, thus flipping Lyon for a pair of long-term assets or something.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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