This flamethrower should be a first-time All-Star

Helsley doesn't have name recognition, but he's putting together stellar first half

June 30th, 2022

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Helsley doesn’t have the gaudy save numbers of Josh Hader, Kenley Jansen or even San Diego’s Taylor Rogers. Helsley also doesn’t have the history of success and name appeal of others such as Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel or Mark Melancon.

That said, Ryan Helsley is an NL All-Star -- or at least he should be when the All-Star teams are named for the Midsummer Classic in Los Angeles in less than three weeks. And that’s even with his first blemish of the season coming on Wednesday in a loss to the Marlins.

Coming off a ninth-inning performance on Tuesday in which he threw 15 pitches -- 11 for strikes -- and struck out the side to preserve a Cardinals victory, Helsley has racked up some of the most eye-popping numbers in baseball.

Here is how Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol described Helsley’s four-pitch strikeout of Miami’s Avisaíl García to close the ninth inning on Tuesday:

“The [velocity] is there, but his other pitches are gross. You saw García's swing on the first-pitch slider, and he didn’t feel like he had a shot. I felt that way my whole [playing] career. He swung at the first pitch, backed out of the box, laughed and was like, ‘Gosh darn, I’m supposed to hit this?’ It‘s that combination of the [off speed] stuff he has, plus adding 100 [mph] to it. That’s real.”

García got his revenge on Wednesday by hitting a two-run home run off Helsley, the first long ball allowed by the Cardinals reliever all season. Even after that wobble, Helsley is 3-1 with a microscopic 0.88 ERA. He’s allowed three earned runs all season and surrendered just 10 hits -- six to righties and four to lefties.

As if all that weren’t dominant enough, Helsley is allowing opponents to hit a woeful .099 against him. His first shaky moment on Wednesday did little to shatter his confidence.

“That’s baseball right there -- you can make the best pitch and give up a hit and make the worst pitch and get an out,” Helsley said. “I’ll just try and learn from it, move on and start another streak.”

The only thing that might keep Helsley out of All-Star contention is the conservative manner the Cardinals have used him. To keep him healthy and fresh, Helsley has pitched just 30 2/3 innings in 25 games. His outings on Tuesday and Wednesday were the just the second time this season that he’s pitched on consecutive nights. The prior preservation of Helsley has allowed him to come in throwing gas, as evidenced by his 103.1 mph pitch earlier this season against the D-backs and the 100.1 mph fastball on Tuesday.

“I think what they are doing is good, because my body is feeling good and I’m bouncing back well,” said Helsley, who has pitched more than one inning 10 times this season. “I’m just trying to stay healthy and putting together a full, healthy season is big for me.”  

 After having somewhat ordinary numbers his first three MLB seasons, Helsley credits his dramatic improvement to good health (he had offseason knee surgery) and his improved command of all his pitches (his walk rate is down from 13.1 percent in 2021 to 9.0 percent in '22). While he said he isn’t focusing too much on his off-the-charts numbers, the 27-year-old Helsley can’t hide what a first All-Star berth would mean to him.

“It would be awesome, a blessing and I’d be super thankful to go out and represent the Cardinals,” said Helsley, who will get to pitch in front of NL All-Star Game manager Brian Snitker next week in Atlanta. “Getting to experience all that for the first time would be awesome.”