Ryan caps breakout rookie season with Twins record

DETROIT — Exactly a year ago, Joe Ryan’s spectacular month-long cameo in the big leagues to finish out the 2021 regular season came to a forgettable conclusion at the hands of these Tigers. Friday night at Comerica Park, he punched back in record-breaking fashion.

Ryan entered his ‘22 finale needing to fan two batters to break the Twins’ single-season record for a rookie. He collected those quickly with consecutive strikeouts of Miguel Cabrera and Spencer Torkelson in the second inning — and kept going.

By the time Ryan completed his sixth scoreless frame to conclude his first full season in the Majors as part of a 7-0 victory over the Tigers, he sat alone atop the leaderboard with 151 K’s, a fitting trophy for a consistently solid year punctuated by flashes of dominance.

“It was a perfect way to wrap his season, a great rookie year from him,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We just gave him the ball in the locker room for the Twins’ single-season rookie strikeout record, in which apparently he topped Francisco Liriano. Pretty amazing, so I think he should be very pleased and he has something very nice to build on going forward.”

The 26-year-old right-hander took some lumps in the sixth inning but escaped unscathed thanks to an outfield assist and a strikeout with runners on the corners. That final third strike brought his total to eight in the outing, decisively passing Liriano’s 144 strikeouts in 2006 to set the Twins’ new rookie mark.

Most strikeouts in a season by a rookie, Twins history
151 – Joe Ryan, 2022
144 – Francisco Liriano, 2006
135 – Bert Blyleven, 1970
130 – Jim Hughes, 1975

“Very honored to be on that list and cool to have a couple of great pitchers on there,” Ryan said. “Definitely an honor.”

It didn’t take long for Ryan to earn his manager’s faith after he was acquired from the Rays last year in the four-player trade that sent away Nelson Cruz. And in a 2022 season during which the Twins were decimated by injuries, Ryan’s consistency was needed as he led the club in innings (147) and strikeouts while finishing second in games started (27), none of which are likely to change in the final games of the season. Ryan was available and effective throughout the year outside a three-and-a-half-week absence due to COVID-19.

“He’s been a good, healthy worker for us,” Baldelli said. “He’s pitched deep into some games. He’s missed bats. He’s continually developed his stuff. He’s been pretty strong in the second half, too. I mean, what else can you ask for from a young arm?”

Though Ryan had a few blow-up outings in key games against the Padres, Dodgers and Red Sox, 2022 was undeniably an effective season of development for the youngster, who continued to learn how to pitch with his offspeed stuff and navigate lineups deeper into games.

When he arrived in that July 22, 2021, trade with Tampa Bay, he leaned on his fastball to the extreme — undeniably an effective pitch due to his unorthodox arm angle — but needed to grow to trust his offspeed stuff to work lineups deeper into games and eat innings when his team needed it. That fastball is still his best pitch — hitters slugged only .305 off it this year — but the development of the slider and changeup will make him a more complete pitcher.

“It allows him to actually pitch to some hitters’ weaknesses in some ways, where at the beginning of the year, he probably wasn’t doing some of that,” Baldelli said. “He was probably just relying on his fastball, and he’s learned that he’s going to have to kind of deviate from that plan and learn some things, and he’s continually getting better.”

The culmination of all that progress as Ryan found a routine looks like his September, which also featured seven no-hit innings against Kansas City and 7 2/3 shutout frames against Cleveland. There was perhaps no more fitting way to cap that than when he overcame adversity in his third time through the lineup, with the Twins hoping he’ll evolve into another innings-eater capable of going deeper into games.