It seemed odd and unwarranted at the time, giving a rookie the honor of starting on Opening Day. Six months later, Joe Ryan might have locked up the job for 2023, too.
Ryan, the young fastball specialist, finished up a splendid first full season on Friday by shutting out the Tigers for six innings, setting a new Twins record for strikeouts by a rookie, and kicking off the final road trip of 2022 with a 7-0 drubbing of Detroit at Comerica Park.
"I thought it was great for him to go out there and muscle through the lineup. He looked great. It was a perfect way to wrap up a great rookie year," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I expect more of the same from him [in 2023], but I couldn't be more pleased with what we got from him this year."
The scoreless start, Ryan's fourth since Aug. 26, earned his 13th victory of the year, fourth-most ever by a Twins rookie, and extended the right-hander's seasonlong dominance of Detroit. Ryan has faced the Tigers four times this season and breezed each time, going 4-0 with an 0.76 ERA, plus 33 strikeouts and only three walks.
Actually, Ryan has feasted on the AL Central in 2022, going 10-0 with a 1.39 ERA against the Twins' four division rivals. And in four September starts, he has allowed only 15 hits, and just three for extra bases, in 28⅔ innings.
This time, he limited the Tigers to five hits, all singles, and induced 16 swing-and-misses. But Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson didn't swing at a third-inning, two-strike fastball in the middle of the plate, going down as Ryan's 145th strikeout victim of the season. That's one batter more than Francisco Liriano whiffed in 2006, making Ryan the new record holder by a Twins rookie.
Not that Ryan had any idea.
"They just told me to throw [the ball] in the dugout" as a souvenir, Ryan said. "I didn't really think about it. … Really cool moment to get the ball from Rocco [after the game], though. And [Caleb] Thielbar told me he watched Liriano get that record."
The Twins had much less trouble with Detroit lefthander Tyler Alexander, though part of the fault for his three-run, five-inning start belonged to a couple of Comerica Park fans who … didn't interfere with a ball in play. With Gio Urshela on first base and one out in the fourth inning, Ryan Jeffers hit a line drive down the left field line that zoomed past some front-row fans as left fielder Akil Baddoo hurried over to field it.
Two fans tried to catch the ball, one with a glove, but neither touched it, and the ball ricocheted off a railing, taking an odd bounce into the left field corner. Baddoo claimed interference, and umpires initially agreed, sending Urshela back to third base and Jeffers to third. But Twins manager Rocco Baldelli challenged the call, and a replay umpire overturned it, awarding Jeffers an RBI triple.
Carlos Correa later slammed a fastball into the left-field seats against Tigers reliever Will Vest, a two-run homer that was the biggest hit of the 14 the Twins racked up. Did he know a fastball was coming?
"I know [Tigers manager] A.J. Hinch a little bit. I played for him" in Houston, Correa pointed out, since Hinch had just changed pitchers. "When he went out there to set that at-bat up, I was looking for that one, for sure."
With Emilio Pagan pitching one inning and Jovani Moran two, the Twins finished off their 17th shutout of the season by holding Detroit to 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.
Most Strikeouts by Twins Rookie Pitcher
151 — Joe Ryan, 2022
144 — Francisco Liriano, 2006
135 — Bert Blyleven, 1970
130 — Jim Hughes, 1975
121 — Roger Erickson, 1978