Joe Ryan’s start to his outing turned out to be a sign for the Twins rookie on Wednesday night. Ryan needed 13 pitches to strike out the Cubs' side in order and didn’t slow down on what became a career night for the right-hander.
Ryan, the Twins’ No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, struck out a career-high 11 batters across five innings in the Twins’ 5-4 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The righty allowed two runs on three hits and walked just one batter before his night was over.
Ryan became the first pitcher in Twins and Senators history to fan 11 or more batters in five or fewer innings.
“Joe was absolutely dialed in facing a team, one of the few teams he’s already faced,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “These guys have already had a look at him and he attacked them. He attacked them in the strike zone and he attacked them with pitches that they had trouble with.
“He was feeling really, really saucy and could probably have continued on and pitched, but the most he’s probably thrown this year I think is about 89 pitches. I don’t like talking about pitches when a guy throws the ball that well, but it was just a wonderful start. A wonderful start.”
Though not overpowering, Ryan leaned heavily on his fastball for 72% of his 86 pitches against the Cubs. His heater had a 90.6 mph average velocity on it, but he used it effectively throughout the night.
Working with an early lead powered by two homers and three RBIs from Max Kepler, Ryan struck out the side in all but two innings and collected 10 swing-and-misses with his fastball -- the most of any of his repertoire in the start. The only two frames where the Cubs managed to figure out Ryan came in the second inning when Nico Hoerner delivered a two-run single, and in the third when Frank Schwindel singled off Ryan with two outs.
“He’s not doing this with tricks, visual tricks and just deception,” 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.”
Following Schwindel’s single, Ryan struck out seven consecutive batters, which included the last five looking. He set a Twins rookie record for the most consecutive in a game since the franchise moved to Minnesota from Washington in 1961, per Elias Sports Bureau. Ryan was also one shy of tying Kenta Maeda’s eight consecutive strikeouts, which are the most in the same span.
“I kind of recognized it afterwards,” Ryan said of the seven straight strikeouts. “I looked at it and I knew I had six. I didn't know I had seven. I think the Schwindel bloop hit over there kind of threw me off. I think before that I knew I'd struck out one or two guys as well, so I was kind of mad about the consecutive [strikeouts] after that. Then I realized I struck out more, so that was cool but I didn't realize how many it was. I didn't even really know what inning it was.”
Ryan considers himself a strikeout guy based on his past success, which includes posting a 12.98 K/9 across three seasons in the Minors. But getting six of his 11 strikeouts looking was one thing he couldn’t explain on Wednesday night.
“I've been told I had some good little hop at the end of the [fastball], so maybe it looks like it's going to be down, stays in the zone a little longer,” Ryan said. “I really don't know what it is, their decision to swing or not was not dictated by me. I figured I'd just put a pitch in a pretty good spot and see what happens.”