Joe Ryan halts Twins’ losing streak with dominant outing

Do-Hyoung Park

By Do-Hyoung Park

CLEVELAND — With the Twins’ playoff hopes taking a big hit this week, all they can do for the remainder of this season is to play things out as best as they can and hope they find some help along the way.

On Sunday, the Twins did, in fact, get the dominant, top-tier effort they needed in this series from second-year right-hander Joe Ryan, who threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field. Entering this five-game set against the division leaders, they’d hoped such an outing would be part of a big surge back toward the top of the AL Central. Instead, it helped to mostly reset the pitching staff, still no easy task following the draining 24 innings of Saturday’s doubleheader.

At this point, game results could largely be academic due to the Twins’ losses in the first three games of the five-game series on Friday and Saturday. Even after Sunday’s win, they remain in third place in the American League Central, six games back of the Guardians with 16 to play. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy outings like the one Ryan gave them — and their significance to a reeling team.

“It was kind of like a stopper-type performance from him at a time when everyone felt, and he felt, we needed someone to go out there and do something just like that, [to] go out there and pitch most of the game and shut the other side down,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Make it two stopper-type performances in a row. In Ryan’s last outing, he was pulled after seven no-hit innings against the Royals as part of an effort that helped snap a three-game losing streak. The Twins’ bullpen couldn’t finish off that no-hit bid, but Ryan simply decided to repeat the feat in this start, blanking Cleveland in the hit column until a one-out single by Tyler Freeman in the fifth inning snapped Ryan’s hitless-innings streak at 11 1/3.

Even without another run at history, Ryan gave the Twins more than they could have hoped for, as an efficient early game turned into more of a battle that he navigated late. Double plays in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings helped Ryan become the second Twins pitcher this season to pitch into the eighth, joining Dylan Bundy’s eight-inning appearance against the D-backs on June 18.

With two outs in the eighth, Cleveland No. 9 hitter Myles Straw knocked a single to left-center field, just out of the reach of shortstop Carlos Correa, ending Ryan’s career-long outing at 7 2/3 frames and 95 pitches. When Jovani Moran retired Andrés Giménez for the final out of the inning, Ryan’s scoreless-innings streak increased to 14 2/3.

When Ryan’s rookie season draws to a close, he’ll almost assuredly own the Twins’ single-season record for strikeouts by a rookie, with his five on Sunday bringing his season total to 138, six shy of Francisco Liriano’s record 144 in 2006. He’ll also have many of these suffocating appearances under his belt — though he’s also faltered with blow-ups in big matchups against the Padres, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees.

Considering Ryan started Opening Day and recalling how strongly he performed in a one-month cameo last season, it’s easy to forget that this is his first full MLB season, in which he’s had to navigate the adjustment from being an almost entirely fastball-only pitcher in the Rays’ Minor League system to one who also mixes in his slider, curveball and changeup to pitch deeper into games for “stopper” outings like this one.

“This is the longest I’ve been with one team since high school, probably,” Ryan said. “We can get into a routine a little bit more, figure things out, know the consistencies of the ballpark you’re going to, what they have and what they don’t have. All those things add up.”

Whether all this will pay off down the stretch for the Twins if they get enough external help to resurrect their slim playoff odds, or whether it’s just setting up an even bigger campaign in ‘23, all this experience helps — and in the short term, too, a pitching staff and team that needed this kind of lift will be grateful.

“He’s pitching in spots where he hasn’t pitched before, and I think he’s taking what he’s done in the past and expanding on it and finding some different space,” Baldelli said. “We talk about adjustments all the time, and he’s making a ton of them right now.”

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