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Lyles traded to Brewers for relief prospect Ponce


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Cody Ponce. - AP

CINCINNATI -- Just the beginning of the sale?

The Pirates traded Jordan Lyles, their expected starter tonight against the Reds, to the Brewers for Class AA relief prospect Cody Ponce. The deal was made about four hours prior to game time.

Alex McRae will now start, the first of his major-league career. Montana DuRapau was recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis to take Lyles' roster spot and be available in relief.

Ponce, 25, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound right-hander, has been stuck at the Class AA level for three consecutive seasons after being Milwaukee's second-round draft pick in 2015. In 27 appearances this season with the Biloxi Shuckers, he had a 3.29 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, 44 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 1/3 innings.

The Pirates assigned Ponce to Class AA Altoona. Baseball America ranked him as the Brewers' 25th-best prospect at midseason, a year after he was switched from a starter to a reliever.

Ponce threw in the upper 90s when he came into professional baseball but has taken some velocity off the fastball to gain better command of the pitch — he hit 11 batters and walked 36 in 95 innings in 2018. The heater tops out at 95 mph and usually sits at 90-93 mph. He also throws a cut fastball, primarily to left-handed hitters, along with a curveball and changeup. His inability to master the change is part of the reason why the Brewers moved him to the bullpen.

“We like the pitcher,” Clint Hurdle said of Ponce. “He’s a guy our analysts and our scouts both like. He has started and pitched out of the bullpen and we’re not going to put him in a cubbyhole. We want to see what we have.”

Lyles had a bizarre season with the Pirates, opening with a 1.89 ERA through his first nine appearances, including eight starts. But his past nine starts saw him go 1-6 with a 9.57 ERA, and he failed to make it through the second inning in two of his past three starts. The Brewers, desperate for pitching help with only two healthy starters, had Lyles on their staff for the second half of 2018.

The Pirates signed Lyles to a one-year, $2.05-million contract as a free agent in December and he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Among the other Pirates on expiring contracts who could be traded before Wednesday afternoon's trading deadline are Corey Dickerson, Melky Cabrera and Francisco Liriano.

Hurdle said the Pirates have not determined how they will fill Lyles' rotation spot beyond McRae facing the Reds. McRae is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in five relief appearances this season, but he made 16 starts for Indianapolis, going 6-6 with a 4.96 ERA.

Top prospect Mitch Keller does not appear to be an option to be recalled. Furthermore, the Pirates aren't inclined to move Chris Stratton from his role as a long reliever.

Steven Brault is expected to make a rehab start Thursday for Indianapolis, though that has't been finalized. He has been on the injured list since July 6 with a strained left shoulder.

The trade of Lyles comes on the heels of the Pirates losing 14 of 16 games since the All-Star break, including their past seven. That has dropped the Pirates from playoff contention but Hurdle says his team cannot just write off the rest of the season.

“You continue to play,” he said. “There’s an honor code out there that you continue to play.”


Lyles made 11 relief appearances with the Brewers late last season, so they are familiar with him. Considering he was 0-3 with a 15.00 ERA in four starts in July, the Pirates were fortunate to even get a fading prospect for him.

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