Ryan struggles through toughest start of season

May 31st, 2023

HOUSTON -- In his first 10 starts of the season, was essentially automatic. Pencil him in for six innings, a quality start and a likely Twins win.

His dominant outings even stretched into streaks: seven straight quality starts, nine cpnsecutive games throwing six or more innings and 37 frames without allowing a home run.

But on Tuesday against the Astros, Ryan faltered in his worst start of the season, allowing a season-high five runs during a season-low four-inning outing in a 5-1 loss at Minute Maid Park.

In the second inning, the homerless streak ended on a shot from Alex Bregman into the Crawford Boxes. The Astros third baseman’s 94.3 mph, 357-foot homer would’ve been a fly-ball out in any other ballpark.

“It’s definitely frustrating. It is what it is though,” Ryan said. “I didn’t even watch it. I just watched [Bregman], and he knows the ballpark well, so that kind of told me everything.”

Four batters later, Ryan allowed another home run to Chas McCormick, this one a no-doubter that flew past the Crawford Boxes and onto the train tracks at Minute Maid Park.

“He has a good fastball, but we're a good fastball-hitting team,” McCormick said.

Part of Ryan’s early success had been developing a repertoire to complement his elite fastball, which ranked first in run value in MLB entering Tuesday. A new splitter and more sweepers replaced his old secondary arsenal of slider, changeup and curveball that yielded a collective .258 batting average and .438 slugging percentage by opponents in 2022.

On Tuesday, he relied less on his fastball and splitter and more on his old repertoire.

Ryan, who said his splitter “wasn’t there as much as it had been,” threw 19 sliders -- the most in any start this season -- according to Baseball Savant. His 20 splitters tied for second-least. Even when he lost his quality start streak in his last start vs. the Giants, battling through five innings and throwing 107 pitches in a one-run outing, Ryan didn’t throw a single slider.

“The little shorter slider that we were throwing today was pretty good,” Ryan said. “I felt like I had good control over that.”

But the slider, which had a spin rate 140 rpm beneath his season average, couldn’t consistently get Ryan strike three.

“The continual long at-bats that he had and the foul balls [where he] made some pretty good pitches, none of these at-bats ended quickly and thus probably … forced him out of the game early,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There are a lot of scenarios where he goes out and pitches just like that, gets a few quick outs, and the game is different.”

Either way, the Twins will need to contribute more on offense. Ryan ranked second in baseball with 56 total runs of support before the game, but Minnesota struggled at the plate again, adding to its MLB-leading strikeout total with 12 more.

Christian Vázquez notched the Twins’ lone RBI, singling in Royce Lewis in the fifth inning. The former Astros catcher received his World Series ring in a ceremony before the game, bringing his 3-year-old son Diego along to greet Astros manager Dusty Baker at home plate.

Before the game, Lewis said he joked with Vázquez, telling him he wouldn’t touch the ring. The catcher wanted him to put it on instead.

“I want everybody to put [the ring] on their fingers so they can feel a World Series ring and motivate everyone to win here,” Vázquez said. “We have a special group to win here, and I think we can do it. That's a little thing that motivates players to get better. They can see their hands with rings on their fingers.”