MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Ryan says he watched a good amount of Justin Verlander’s starts growing up, but the now-39-year-old wasn’t a pitcher he would specifically focus on in his baseball-watching.
No matter: Ryan had one of the best seats in the house on Tuesday night, when Verlander twirled an eight-inning gem, falling five outs shy of his fourth career no-hitter in the Twins’ 5-0 loss to the Astros at Target Field. Ryan only wishes that he could have pitched more effectively himself to have made it a more memorable all-around event.
“Initially, I didn’t know I wasn’t starting against him until today,” Ryan said. “Yeah, it’s awesome to go out there. I just wish I had pitched a little better and made it a little more exciting. I think a duel there would have been fun, but kind of a one-sided outing.”
Verlander leads all active pitchers in starts made (39) and strikeouts (258) against the Twins, and also entered Tuesday with the third-best ERA (2.91) among active starters to have thrown at least 50 innings against Minnesota.
But all these years and all these matchups later, the Twins have never quite found a way to consistently hit Verlander — and the former Tiger and now-Astros star still brought his best stuff on Tuesday, when he struck out five, walked two and faced the minimum through eight frames. Gio Urshela broke up Verlander’s bid for history with a one-out single in the eighth as the Twins avoided being no-hit for the first time since May 2, 2012.
“Actually, that’s my first hit against Verlander,” Urshela said. “I think it was a good one. Especially the way he was throwing today. He’s really good. I mean, he’s been doing that for a long time. He’s a really good pitcher, and thank God I got the hit.”
Now just embarking on his career and making his 11th career start, Ryan’s sights are obviously set on a similar career — and to this point, the Twins’ rookie Opening Day starter has been both efficient and dominant in most of those outings to begin his career, carrying the best WHIP (.74) through his first nine career starts since Christy Mathewson (.70) from 1900-01, per STATS.
But he didn’t have that stuff on Tuesday.
Ryan issued a career-high five walks, as many as he’d allowed in his five starts from last season combined. He was charged with four runs, nearly doubling his season total. The walks were triggered by deep counts from the Astros’ hitters, as the normally efficient Ryan threw 22, 15, 22 and 24 pitches in his four full innings and exited with no outs in the fifth with his pitch count at 90, matching his season high.
Ryan allowed 24 foul balls, the most given up by any Twins pitcher this season and matching his career high. An Astros lineup known for its discipline combined to swing at only six pitches from Ryan that were clearly out of the zone — and many of his misses were clear misses, the product of a rare night of execution issues for the right-hander.
“I think just executing those pitches, I didn’t really have a feel for the slider warming up and didn’t really [in the outing],” Ryan said. “I got it a couple times, but I didn’t feel comfortable today. It’s fine. I got it when I needed it several times, but I didn’t really feel like I had the command today to execute the pitches I needed to execute.”
These sorts of starts will happen for any pitcher, let alone a youngster, and Ryan bounced back from a similarly shaky start on Opening Day (four walks in four innings) with one of his best against the Red Sox on April 15, in which he struck out seven without a walk in six strong frames.
It just wasn’t that day for Ryan — and it didn’t help that the epitome of reliability was at his best on the other side.
“Well, [Verlander’s longevity is] the goal,” Ryan said. “That’s what I’d love to be doing. Yeah, definitely some work to do to wipe this one, but I think I’m on a good path to keep building on. Yeah. He’s definitely a model for young guys to watch. I know he takes care of his business off the field very well, so that’s what you need to do to have success long term.”