Left-hander John Lamb didn’t seem like a candidate for promotion this month.
Lamb’s numbers at Class A-Advanced Wilmington weren’t exactly eye-popping: a 4-12 record, 5.63 ERA in 92 2/3 innings pitched, 109 hits allowed and 76 strikeouts. So it may have been somewhat surprising when the Royals bumped him all the way up to Class AAA Omaha.
But the Royals had a reason for the move.
“It was a way of challenging John,” said J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for scouting and player development. “He was very patient during his struggles this year in A-ball, and the velocity is starting to come. All of a sudden he is pitching 88 (mph) to 91, where for a majority of the year it was less than that.
"Just to motivate John and to get him in the right frame of mind going into next year, we thought let’s challenge him and see what he does there.”
On Tuesday, Lamb turned in a quality start as he allowed three runs on five hits in six innings in the Storm Chasers’ 4-0 loss at Memphis. (The Storm Chasers said the radar readings at Memphis were inaccurate, so there’s no update)
Last week, in his first start for Omaha, Lamb gave up four runs in the first inning, but settled down and allowed only one more run over the next four innings.
“Overall, the outing was pretty good minus a handful of hitters there,” Picollo said.
It was a long road to Omaha for Lamb, who two years ago was with Northwest Arkansas.
At the time, Lamb was the Royals’ top pitching prospect, but he had Tommy John surgery in June 2011. His recovery was hampered last year by a tendon problem on the outside of his left foot.
Lamb ended up pitching just 13 innings in 2012 before he was shut down. This year, the Royals put Lamb in Wilmington, where he struggled at times. However, in his last four starts with the Blue Rocks, Lamb had a 3.46 ERA and struck out 16 and walked just three in his final 26 innings.
“I thought the last four starts I made ... were the best I’ve thrown the ball post-surgery,” Lamb told the Omaha World-Herald. “Even going back to my healthy days, that’s the best command that I’ve had.”
While happy with Lamb’s improvement, Picollo was equally impressed with Lamb during his struggles, including a three-game stretch in May when he gave up 17 earned runs in 15 innings.
“He handled it well,” Picollo said. “I know there were times he was frustrated because he wanted more faster. But he stayed the course and took the ball just about every time. There was a stretch where we skipped him a start or two just to give him a breather. But he weathered the storm and hopefully finishes the season well here in his last two or three outings.”
There are times when Picollo still can’t believe that Lamb even had the surgery. While Lamb had a mid-90s fastball before the injury, he was not considered a power guy.
“Truthfully, he was a very, very shocking and surprising guy to have Tommy John, because his arm works so well,” Picollo said. “The whole organization would not have predicted that he would have undergone Tommy John surgery, because he just did not fit that bill.
“Some guys you can see it in their delivery, some guys you can see it just because they are hard-throwers. John would throw a slightly above-average fastball and it looked like he was playing catch all the time. There was never any effort to what he did. There wasn’t a flaw in his delivery or his arm action to where we’d think this guy will break down like we do with some of our pitchers.”
Royals fans may wonder why someone like Danny Duffy can return so quickly from Tommy John surgery compared with Lamb. But Picollo is always quick to point out that everyone’s body reacts differently to surgery.
While Lamb’s fastball is not back to where it was pre-surgery, Picollo is encouraged. Tuesday’s quality start was another good sign.
“Because of the way he pitched and the type of pitcher he was before the surgery, he didn’t have to come back with a big fastball,” Picollo said. “He wasn’t a guy who needed that big pitch. It was really just a matter of getting him healthy and hopefully getting back to the approach he had prior to the surgery and let his pitchability take over, because that’s the type of guy he was and I think he will be again.”