Utah native Brandon Lyon knows he has a long road back to MLB bullpen

By Steve Hunt

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, July 3 2011 8:05 p.m. MDT

Houston Astros relief pitcher Brandon Lyon in action against the Reds.

Al Behrman, Associated Press

HOUSTON — Brandon Lyon's 2011 season likely ended early last week. But, depending on one's viewpoint, that might not be a bad thing for the Salt Lake City native.

On June 30, the 31-year-old reliever had surgery in Pensacola, Fla., to repair a detached right biceps tendon and to also address a right labrum injury, which has lingered since 2010. Famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews handled the procedure.

Lyon was placed on Houston's disabled list June 14 with a right biceps injury, one day after he threw one inning and allowed three runs off two hits against Atlanta.

For the season, Lyon has appeared in only 15 games and has a 3-3 record, with four saves and an 11.48 ERA in just 13 1?3 innings of work.

Those numbers are a far cry from those he posted in 2010, when he appeared in 79 games, going 6-6 with 20 saves and a 3.12 ERA. But that's what injuries can do.

First-year Astros manager Brad Mills wants to see the 2010 version of Lyon again in the future.

"We know exactly what he was able to bring us last year with those saves and everything that he was able to do," Mills said. "We tried to get him back on course and it really hasn't gotten there so far this year. His value out of the pen, we were able to see that last year."

Lyon admits this season has been challenging.

"It's obviously been tougher just getting ready every day and the recovery time of having to do so much more than I had to do in the past and rehabbing an injury that really doesn't ever get better," he said. "It feels like you're constantly having to do stuff just to get by."

The bicep issue compounded his injury woes but his labrum injury dates further back.

"This all began last January," Lyon said. "I had a cyst in my shoulder and I guess it was caused by the labrum tear. That's the first time I was feeling any pain that I hadn't felt before. It was a different pain. Immediately after doing a few things and exercises, I felt something was definitely wrong here. I hadn't felt anything like this down my bicep before."

He did feel better after doctors drained the cyst, but those effects were only temporary.

"It immediately felt better but not completely better and I think that's the first time I felt the way I've been feeling right now," he recalled.

Now that the surgery is done, he knows his road to recovery is only beginning.

"It's a mental battle but I just need to feel better. This is the first step to getting as close to 100 percent as I can in the future," Lyon said.

And like every other big-league reliever, his goal is a simple one.

"I want to be available every day. I'm in the bullpen," he said. "I've got to be available three or four days in a row if needed. Right now I just can't do that."

Healthy or not, one thing never changes: his pride in hailing from the Beehive State.

"I enjoyed playing baseball in Salt Lake. It got me ready for some of those cold April games in some cities," he said. "I always enjoyed my time and played against a lot of really good players. I'm definitely proud of where I came from and the tradition that Taylorsville (High) had."

That pride extends to the three seasons he spent at Dixie State, where in 2000 he was named Junior College Player of the Year.

"Great times," he said. "I played with some great teams. We were fortunate to go to the College World Series twice. It was a great experience, learned a lot from Mike Littlewood. He treated us as men. It was a stepping stone to where I'm at now. Mike lets everybody get the best out of their ability. I don't think I'd be here now if I didn't go to Dixie and have Mike helping me along the way."

Knowing his 2011 campaign is likely over is a big blow to his competitive psyche, but there is one silver lining — he gets to spend more time with his family as he recovers.

"Yeah, it's always a bonus," Lyon said. "Seeing them will definitely help me get through this by keeping me focused on getting healthy — by knowing they're just there to help and give me support. If anything, the bright spot is I do get to see my family a little bit more. I'm just glad to move forward on this."

Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

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