Detroit Tigers (38-56) vs. Minnesota Twins (50-44)
When: 6:10 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Comerica Park in Detroit.
TV: Bally Sports Detroit.
Radio: WXYT-FM (97.1) (Tigers radio affiliates).
First-pitch forecast: High-80s, partly cloudy.
Probable pitchers: Tigers RHP Michael Pineda (2-5, 5.22 ERA) vs. Twins RHP Joe Ryan (6-3, 2.99 ERA).
THURSDAY’S GAME 2 LOSS:Garrett Hill’s solid start crumbles in 6th, offense silent as Tigers fall, 5-0
THURSDAY’S GAME 1 WIN:Skubal superb as Tigers open second half with 7-2 win over Athletics
Game notes: It’s one of the most oft-repeated mantras in baseball these days: “Don’t trade with the Rays.”
Seemingly, no matter when the deal goes off, the small-market franchise in the majors’ worst stadium — yes, worse than the Oakland Coliseum — somehow always comes out ahead. (The Tigers are getting a low-key taste of this themselves this season, as they wait for outfielder Austin Meadows’ first home run wearing the Old English “D” while former prospect Isaac Paredes has 13 homers in just 51 games with the Rays.)
But sometimes — oh so rarely — teams get the upper hand in a deal with Tampa Bay. That appears to be the case in the Twins’ pickup of right-hander Joe Ryan at last season’s trade deadline. One year ago Friday, Minnesota sent slugger (and Tigers-killer) Nelson Cruz (plus righty reliever Calvin Faucher) to the Rays for Ryan and minor-league right-hander Drew Strotman.
At the time, Ryan was a moderately successful 25-year-old and 2018 seventh-round pick (No. 210 overall) with some Triple-A experience, though he wasn’t even with the Rays’ affiliate at the time of the deal — he was in Tokyo, trying to win an Olympic medal with Team USA. And indeed, Cruz already had seven homers and three doubles in 96 plate appearances with the Rays by the time Ryan made his first appearance in the Twins’ organization on Aug. 20.
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Since then, however, Ryan has made the trade look costly for the forever penny-pinching Rays.
Called up Sept. 1, he picked up 25 strikeouts while allowing just six earned runs in 22 innings over his first four starts (two each against Cleveland and the Chicago Cuts) before getting knocked around Sept. 30 for six earned by the Tigers. The Opening Day starter this season for the Twins, Ryan has picked up where he left off in September, with 66 strikeouts in 75⅓ innings. (Cruz, meanwhile, finished with a .725 OPS in 55 games with the Rays before departing for the Nationals in offseason free agency.)
Ryan spent three weeks on the injured list in late May and early June, and struggled slightly in his three June starts: 10 earned runs in 15⅔ innings. But in July, the righty appears to have rediscovered his April form, with 13 strikeouts and five walks while allowing four earned runs over 16⅓ innings.
That could be bad news for the Tigers’ bats. (OK, OK, discussing a pitcher is almost ALWAYS bad news for the Tigers’ bats this season.) Ryan finished off a commanding April in which he posted a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings with seven innings of dominance April 27 vs. the Tigers. That night in Minneapolis, he allowed just one hit and one walk — to Miguel Cabrera in the fourth inning and Spencer Torkelson in the second inning — over seven innings. Neither Cabrera nor Torkelson made it to second base.
The Tigers struggled, in particular, with Ryan’s four-seam fastball, despite Torkelson’s dismissive attitude toward it after the game.
“You look on the board, and (his fastball is) only 92-93 (mph), not overwhelming,” Torkelson told reporters. “But from that arm slot, it plays up a little bit, and then he has some good off-speed to go with it.”
Indeed, Ryan picked up nine whiffs on his four-seamer against the Tigers, with another 11 called strikes. It’s a pitch Ryan relies heavily upon, throwing it 58% of the time this season — albeit with an average velocity of 91.7 mph. Combining that with a slider that averages 81.3 mph (which he throws 23.2% of the time) and a changeup that averages 83.9 mph (while being thrown 12.4% of the time), Ryan likes to work down and away to right-handed hitters: Nearly 20% of his pitches this season have finished low and outside the strike zone. This is probably not good news for Javier Baez, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Ryan in April.
Among the Tigers still on the roster — Torkelson made his 2022 Triple-A debut Friday night — Jonathan Schoop has had the most success against Ryan, with a single and a double in five at-bats. The Castros (Harold and Willi) each have one hit in two at-bats, though Harold’s went for two bases last year. On the other end, there’s Akil Baddoo, who is 0-for-4 vs. Ryan with three strikeouts and a walk, including going down swinging and looking in two plate appearances against Ryan back in April.
That April 27 game also featured Saturday’s starter for the Tigers, Michael Pineda, on the Target Field mound. He didn’t fare nearly as well as Ryan, giving up four earned runs, on three home runs (Max Kepler in the second, Kepler in the fourth and Ryan Jeffers in the fifth). Pineda lasted five innings while taking the loss. Obviously, he’ll be on the lookout for Kepler, a Tigers-killer in his own right who has 18 career home runs against the franchise, with seven in Comerica Park. Pineda has also struggled against shortstop Carlos Correa — remember him? Correa, playing on the first year of a three-year, $105.3 million contract (with potential opt-outs after this season and next), is 11-for-26 lifetime against “Big Mike,” with four doubles and three home runs. The former Astro is hitting .279/.353/.450 this season, though he has cooled off in July, with a .620 OPS since the start of the month.
The Tigers and Twins wrap up the two-game series at 1:40 p.m. Sunday at Comerica Park. If it seemed like just too short of an AL Central reunion, don’t worry; the Tigers head to Minnesota for a three-game series Aug. 1-3. Between now and then, though, the Tigers will host the San Diego Padres for three games on Monday-Wednesday, while the Twins have Monday off, followed by a two-game road set against their brothers-in-accents, the Milwaukee Brewers, on Tuesday-Wednesday.
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