On Wednesday night, Joe Ryan’s major league debut came with a lot of hype for a player who has only been in the organization since the trade deadline. Ryan was one of two pitchers acquired in the Nelson Cruz trade and had led Team USA to a silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He dominated in two starts with Triple-A St. Paul upon his return and earned a September call-up.
Ryan allowed three runs over five innings in his first start, but his stats don’t tell the entire story. Ryan needed only 15 outs to show why he’s the No. 6 prospect in the organization and that he deserves a spot in the Twins’ rotation next year.
His entrance alone set the tone for the night. With long, flowing hair and a Dazed and Confused mustache, Ryan took the mound to Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” against the backdrop of a lavender Minneapolis skyline. Ryan’s easy delivery made it look like it was just another start for the 25-year-old, and it showed in the first two innings.
Ryan was able to get the first two outs quickly before striking out Ian Happ on a high fastball to end the first inning. The right-hander led off the second by falling behind Patrick Wisdom 3-0 but battled back for another strikeout before setting the Cubs down in order.
That led to an uncharacteristic third inning, which opened with a walk to Alfonso Rivas. Walks were rare during Ryan’s time in the minor leagues. He allowed 1.6 walks per nine innings between Tampa’s Triple-A team in Durham and St. Paul. Although that number has increased through each level of the minor league system, it was the only walk that Ryan delivered on the night.
But like most walks, this free pass came back to haunt. Ryan relies on his fastball, which averages 90.8 mph but comes with plenty of movement. He used the fastball 70% of the time, according to Baseball Savant, and the Cubs adjusted, taking advantage with a pair of extra-base hits.
Happ smashed a double off the right-field wall before Ryan battled to get two outs. It looked like he would get out of the jam, but Frank Schwindel smashed a fastball for a three-run homer that produced the only runs of the night. After a loud third out off the bat of Wisdom, Ryan was able to head to the dugout and exhale.
The third inning represented a turning point in Ryan’s debut. Twins pitchers had let bad innings snowball throughout the season, which effectively ended games before they started. When Ryan took the mound in the fourth inning, he used his fastball but mixed in a changeup, a slider, and a curveball.
Worth noting: Ryan used his changeup exclusively to left-handers and his slider against right-handers. The result kept the Cubs off-balance and allowed him to retire his final seven batters.
The Twins’ offense couldn’t pull Ryan out of the loss column, but that matters less than what he showed he could be. With Ryan, the Twins seem to have a pitcher who can do things that they’ve struggled with this offseason.
Ryan relies on his fastball, but he does a good job of moving it around the strike zone. By mixing his location, he changed the eye levels of the Cubs batters before they adjusted and took advantage in the third inning.
Once the Cubs adjusted, Ryan had a counter, mixing in off-speed pitches and limiting his self-inflicted damage. Once he pounded the zone, he let his defense make plays and made it through the fifth inning. His ability to make adjustments on the fly is a good sign that this performance was sustainable.
The Twins would like to see their pitchers go deeper into games, but that’s something Ryan can do in his next start. With the demeanor and ability he showed on the mound, he should be a pitcher worthy of a spot in next year’s rotation, third inning be damned.