JUPITER, Fla. -- Though he's likely not going to be healthy enough to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, Tyler Lyons could be in position to contribute to the big league team sooner than initially expected.
The Cardinals expected Lyons to be sidelined for most of camp after undergoing right knee surgery in early November. The lefty is still limited in terms of activity, but he recently has added more leg exercises to his workouts and is already throwing off the mound.
On Wednesday, Lyons took the hill for a session of low-intensity catch. He'll do so again Friday. It's all leading, Lyons hopes, toward an opportunity to participate in Grapefruit League games before camp breaks at the end of March.
"I'm definitely happy with where we're at," Lyons said. "I feel like every day stuff gets a little easier. Barring anything unforeseen, I'll keep progressing here on the mound."
Lyons last pitched competitively on July 30, when he made a brief appearance in Miami. He had been bothered by right knee discomfort for several weeks at that point, but it hadn't yet affected his ability to pitch. Everything changed that day.
Lyons went on the disabled list and was prescribed 12 weeks of rest. When he didn't improve, Lyons had the operation. The surgeon found significant cartilage damage, which explained why the stress fracture in his femur bone hadn't healed. Lyons remained on crutches for six weeks following the procedure.
Doctors cleared Lyons to resume throwing in mid-January, and he has passed several other rehab hurdles since then. Lyons is jogging without discomfort and has begun more impact work -- jumping on one leg, landing on one leg, lunging forward -- to build up atrophied muscles.
"[It was] kind of weird in that it was such a unique injury and not a lot of protocol for how it's going to progress," manager Mike Matheny said. "Throwing off the mound a little bit, I think, is a positive step. It looks like he's going to be [limited] for a little ways, but it also looks very optimistic."
When healthy, Lyons could contribute in any number of places for the Cardinals. Last year, he found a fit in the bullpen, serving as a long-relief option. He had a 3.38 ERA in 30 appearances before shutting it down for the season.
Lyons, 28, has thus far had more success out of the bullpen (2.69 ERA, 50 games) than he has as a starter (5.20 ERA, 20 games). However, the Cardinals may later look at him as a starting candidate given the imbalance of right-handed pitchers. The club projects to open the year with an all-righty rotation.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.