Sticky air, high winds, and a foreboding forecast didn’t stop 8,209 baseball fans from coming out to CHS Field on Friday night to watch highly-touted prospect and Olympian Joe Ryan make his Twins organization debut. Even better? The game marked Byron Buxton’s highly-anticipated return after a lengthy stint on the IL from a hand injury he suffered on June 21st.
Ryan was electric out of the gate, hitting 93, 94, and 95 MPH in his first matchup of the night, striking out former Twins outfielder Ian Miller on six pitches. The former Rays prospect carried his dominance through the first inning, striking out the side on a total of 15 pitches, 11 of those being strikes.
After a perfect first inning, Ryan’s second inning was a carbon copy. The 6’2 gun-slinger needed just 18 pitches to fan the heart of the I-Cubs order. Six hitters, six strikeouts.
After two innings of strikeouts, Ryan must’ve realized that it would be selfish not to get his fielders involved in the action. Ryan drew two groundouts to the middle infield and tossed in another strikeout, bringing his total to seven.
One of Ryan’s few mistakes came in the fourth inning when he left a pitch up that Cubs’ outfielder Nick Martini hit over the right-field fence. Yet just as he showed in Tokyo, Ryan wasn't phased, striking out two of the next three batters to end the inning and a stellar first outing as a Minnesota Twin.
In today’s game, it’s not uncommon to see managers take top prospects out of games early to protect arms and hone in on development. Given that Ryan hasn’t pitched since starting (and winning) the Olympic semifinals for Team USA on August 4th, it’s not shocking that Toby Gardenhire removed his starter after four dominant innings. The organization had developed a plan that included Ryan throwing 60-70 pitches on Friday night.
Four innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts, one walk, and 49 strikes on 67 pitches. Not bad for a guy pitching in a new environment that hasn’t thrown in a Minor League game since July 18th.
Twins fans knew that Joe Ryan was a talented pitcher when he was acquired in the trade that sent Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay. As a recent MLB Top 100 Prospect and two-game winner at the Olympics, Ryan’s numbers speak for themselves.
Yet like so many other things in life, seeing is believing. Twins and Saints fans got to see arguably the strongest debut performance from a pitcher in the organization this year on Friday night.
Here are three takeaways from Ryan’s debut in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
- Ryan’s velocity on his fastball ranged from 92-95 MPH all evening, and he was painting the corners of the strike zone. It’s no secret that the heater is Ryan’s pitch, but his ability to consistently nail his spots was impressive.
- Pitching with a lead is a pitcher’s best friend (Editor's note: It's right up there with the double play and dogs.). The Saints provided that to Ryan by scoring six runs in the first inning. It will be interesting to see how he handles tighter game situations.
- Perhaps the most impressive feat of the night for Ryan came after he gave up the mammoth homer over the right-field wall. For many, the situation could have been a slippery slope. Not for Ryan, who struck out the next batter, got a ground ball, and retired the final batter with another strikeout. Ryan’s confidence shows when he’s on the mound. The guy has swagger, and he’s not afraid to show it.
Buxton’s performance wasn’t as noteworthy as his last rehab debut with the Saints, when he went 2-for-3 with a triple on June 8th against Omaha (Royals). Buxton went 0-for-2 with an RBI sac-fly and a strikeout before being removed from the game after the fifth inning. Buxton’s sac fly was inches away from being a double but was caught by a sprawling Greg Deichmann in right field. (Editor's Note: Slo-motion replay showed that it likely was a trap, but with no replay in Triple-A, the call stood.)
No, it wasn’t the April MVP-caliber Buxton that fans had hoped to see but just watching the organization’s centerpiece compete again was a treat for all. Buxton will likely stay with the Saints over the weekend and longer if needed. There’s no rush for the superstar. With the Twins out of playoff contention, it’s crystal clear that getting Buxton healthy is a priority of the organization.
For more in-depth recaps from across the Twins minor league affiliates be sure to check out tonight's Minor League Report!