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Lamb excited for playoff-bound Naturals

Lamb excited for playoff-bound Naturals

If the old adage is that you can never have enough pitching, particularly of the left-handed variety, then the solution might be in Northwest Arkansas.

That's the home of the Naturals, the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. At various times this season, the playoff-bound rotation has included a quartet of legitimate southpaw prospects: Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer.

These aren't too-old-for-the-level finesse guys, either. All of them are 22 or younger and have stuff to go along with pitchability. Three of them -- all but Dwyer, who is rehabbing from an injury -- will try to pitch the Naturals to a Texas League championship.

"It's really great having us together," said Lamb, who's the youngest of the group at age 20 and joined the Naturals' staff at the end of July. "We're all pushing each other. All of us are watching each other. If one guy does well, we're all trying to compete with that guy. It's fun, especially if that rotation ever comes together [in Kansas City]. It's a fun group to watch."

Lamb's development has been particularly enjoyable for the organization. A fifth-round pick in the 2008 Draft, the Southern California high school product only fell that far because he missed his senior season after fracturing his elbow in a car accident. He made his professional debut the following year, with the Royals being understandably cautious, sending the teenager to make two short-season stops.

"Last season was important in my development," said Lamb, who totaled 68 2/3 innings during that summer debut. "I feel for my first season, I was given a little taste to see what it was like to travel in a short-season Rookie level. The level of play was right where it needed to be for me then, especially coming off of an injury."

In 2010, the gloves came off and Lamb responded. He began the season in the Midwest League, but after posting a 1.58 ERA and .188 batting average against over eight starts, he got bumped up to the Class A Advanced Carolina League. Still only 19 at the time, Lamb didn't blink an eye with the promotion. The lefty put up a 1.45 ERA over 13 starts with Wilmington, holding hitters to a .219 average.

That meant one more promotion, up to the Texas League. Understandably, this jump has proved to be more challenging. Lamb has gone 2-1 with a 5.72 ERA over six starts. There certainly have been moments, like when he tossed 6 1/3 hitless innings on Aug. 26 to earn Pitcher of the Week honors and followed that up with another victory, but it hasn't been quite the breeze his first two stops were.

"When I'm at my best I'm throwing strikes all the time with my fastball and working off of that," Lamb said. "That makes my other pitches sharper. The games I haven't had success in have been largely because of a lack of fastball command.

"There are no excuses; I just haven't executed. I don't think the jump is huge, but the hitters are a little better and a little more patient."

Regardless of how this season plays out, Lamb's season has been an unqualified success. He knows he needs to continue to refine his secondary stuff so he has a true out pitch for the upper levels, but for now he's happy to be where he feels he should have been had he gotten his start back in 2008.

"I really couldn't imagine this opportunity coming this early in my career," Lamb said. "Jumping two levels for me is a pretty big deal. I feel I was a little behind everybody because of my elbow injury. I felt like I was playing catch up with the rest of my Draft class. It's nice to be back with them."

He'll be with them for just a little while longer. Lamb has thrown 143 combined innings, which must be close to a cutoff point, considering this is his first full season of pitching. It's not something he's too concerned about.

"I'm not worried about anything, and I don't know if the organization is," Lamb said. "It's been brought up briefly a few times. I haven't heard about any limit I'll be done at. As of right now, I'm pitching in the playoffs. I don't know what day, what game, but I'm pitching and helping the team win.

"For me, it's a big deal. This is my first time being in a playoff atmosphere at any level. It's going to be a fun atmosphere to be in, and we'll all be going out there trying to win a championship."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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