For a California kid who’s used to sunshine and freeways, Connor Lunn is adapting nicely to spring showers and a slower pace in the Midwest.
The 23-year-old right-handed pitcher is scheduled to get his next start on Friday night for the Springfield Cardinals as a series against the Amarillo Sod Poodles continues at Hammons Field.
Lunn has been one of the Cardinals’ best starters so far, with a 2-3 record and 4.41 earned run average — inflated by allowing six runs in 4 ½ innings April 29 against Tulsa. Otherwise, he’s been pretty solid in making the jump to Double-A for the first time.
An 11th-round draft choice in 2019 out of the University of Southern California, Lunn said he’s found his first few weeks in Springfield enjoyable — just as he did playing at High-A Peoria, Illinois, a year ago.
“I’m a California guy, so my experiences in the Midwest have been fun,” Lunn said. “I’ve never really been out here before and I like it. The food’s great. Gailey’s is my favorite. Or Flame and Black Sheep.
“Springfield is a great place and a lively place and I like it.”
Lunn part of improved Springfield staff
Lunn’s debut season in Double-A has been mostly positive for a Cardinals’ team that is showing notable improvement on the mound from a year ago. He earned two victories in the same series recently at San Antonio.
Manager Jose Leger said it’s not easy to face the same team in back-to-back starts, as hitters take mental notes and make adjustments the second time around.
“His competitiveness,” Leger said of Lunn’s best trait. “I didn’t think he had his best stuff on Sunday and still won. He pitched behind on hitters and kept competing. He got out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs and that’s hard to do.
“You do that when you compete and go pitch by pitch. He didn’t have his breaking ball like he did his first outing there, but he was still able to get through five innings with mostly fastballs and mixing in his curve now and then.”
Lunn, a native of Carlsbad, California, said the first few weeks in Double-A have been a learning experience, not only to find quality food in a strange city but to learn new tricks to get hitters out.
“Every time I’m on the mound, I’m learning something new,” Lunn said. “I’m doing something different to try and get an edge, so Double-A has been a good experience.
“I’m a fastball-dominant pitcher that isn’t necessarily going to light up the radar gun, like 98 (miles per hour) or whatever, but I think I’m able to get ahead with my fastball and throw my off-speed when I need to.”
Control has been key
Lunn is known as a strike-thrower. He has 171 strikeouts and only 30 walks in 166 ⅓ career innings as a pro. That sort of ratio is going to serve any pitcher well, at any level of the sport.
Good control is something the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Lunn said he’s always had, whether he was earning all-Pac-12 Conference honors as Southern Cal’s closer his sophomore season or working as a starter in 2019 before being drafted. He said going to college and playing at a high level prepared him, physically and mentally, for pro ball.
“When I was the closer at USC, I threw about 95 percent fastballs and limited my walks to give our team its best chance to succeed,” Lunn said. “My junior year there and in high school I was a starting pitcher. I have the ability to start and relieve, but as far as pro ball goes this is my second year to start and it’s been great.
“I feel like I’ve adapted and can be successful with multiple pitches.”
Lunn knows Double-A is where careers often go one of two directions. The quality of play is elevated and he’s finding that out in facing hitters that are more adaptable than at lower levels.
“They see that if you are not able to throw on pitch for a strike, they will eliminate that pitch so you now have to be more precise with command on different counts,” he said.
So if you come out to Hammons Field, look for Lunn to pound the strike zone and work fast. He enjoys the new pace-of-play clock that forces both pitchers and hitters to work without wasted time.
“I try to go as fast as possible,” he said. “I like to get into a rhythm. I think it kind of creates an advantage for the pitcher.”
Cardinals home games this week
Tuesday: beat Amarillo 11-10
Wednesday: vs. Amarillo, 11:30 a.m.
Thursday: vs. Amarillo, 6:35 p.m. (Thirsty Thursday)
Friday: vs. Amarillo, 6:35 p.m. (Friday the 13th Fireworks)
Saturday: vs. Amarillo, 6:05 p.m. (Halfway to Halloween Specialty Jersey Auction)
Sunday: vs. Amarillo, 6:05 p.m. (Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Sunday)
Tickets: Call 417-863-0395 or visit the Cardinals box office at Hammons Field