Twins’ Joe Ryan, ‘in the zone,’ faces Tigers

Field Level Media

September 30, 2021 at 11:59 am.

Right-hander Joe Ryan will make his fifth career start on Thursday night as his Minnesota Twins go for a three-game series sweep of the Detroit Tigers in Minneapolis.

It will be the final home game of the season for Minnesota (71-87), which has won six of its past eight games but occupies last place in the American League’s Central Division.

However, Ryan (2-1, 2.45 ERA), obtained from Tampa Bay in the July 22 Nelson Cruz trade, has provided a glimmer of hope for the 2022 season with an impressive start to his major-league career.

He has started twice against both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs and used a deceptive fastball to allow six runs on 10 hits and three walks over 22 innings while striking out 25. Opponents are batting just .133 against him.

Ryan’s most recent start was at the Cubs on Sept. 22, and he picked up the win in a 5-4 Twins victory, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk over five innings while striking out 11, including the final seven batters he faced. He became the first player in franchise history to strike out 11 or more batters in five or fewer innings.

Ryan, 25, did it with a fastball that averaged just 90.6 mph. Six of the strikeouts were looking, and 72 percent of the 86 pitches he threw were fastballs.

“There’s a lot of guys swinging through the fastballs,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It looks like its 96 and it’s coming out 91-92. Just got one of those fastballs that hitters don’t see, whether it’s the carry or (the fact that) he hides it well.”

“He’s not doing this with tricks, visual tricks and just deception,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s in the zone. He’s not getting guys who are unfamiliar with him to expand and swing at pitches that are bouncing, that are up by their heads. Yeah, occasionally that is going to happen. He is coming right at them with pitches that even when they take, they’re in the zone. That’s what you’re looking for.”

Left-hander Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.13) will start for Detroit (75-83), which has a four-game losing streak. Skubal is 1-2 with a 3.51 ERA in five career starts against Minnesota, including 0-1 with a 3.45 ERA in three starts at Target Field.

The Twins won the series with a 5-2 victory on Wednesday night as Jorge Polanco hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Michael Pineda, making his last start before heading into free agency, won his fifth consecutive start since coming off the injured list on Sept. 6 to improve to 9-8.

Pineda received a loud ovation from the Target Field crowd after allowing one run on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.

“I hope that’s not the last time we’re going to be taking him out of a ballgame in a Twins uniform,” Baldelli said. “I’d love to have Mike back here going forward. He’s been a guy that I think all the guys will be following going into the offseason, still talking to him, seeing what he’s thinking, seeing how things are going, and we’ll see how it plays out. He’s endeared himself to this group.”

It also was the final start of the season for Detroit’s Casey Mize, the overall first pick of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Auburn. Mize overcame a rocky first inning highlighted by Polanco’s three-run homer to allow three runs on five hits over four innings while striking out four. He finished his rookie year with a 7-9 record and 3.71 ERA.

“I’m proud of the fact that I was able to make 30 starts and throw (150 1/3) innings,” Mize said. “There have been a lot of players in 2020 and 2021 that go down with injury and missed some time. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to avoid going on the injured list and to be here and provide value. I’m super proud of the work that I was able to put in.”