TODAY: The Twins officially reinstated Ryan from the 15-day IL, and righty Jordan Balazovic was optioned to Triple-A in the corresponding move.
AUGUST 25: The Twins are listing Joe Ryan as the probable starter for tomorrow evening’s game with the Rangers. They’ll need to reinstate him from the 15-day injured list. Ryan will oppose Max Scherzer in the third contest of a four-game set.
Ryan missed three weeks after straining his left groin. It isn’t clear if he’d been pitching through discomfort before his IL placement. His results immediately prior to landing on the shelf had taken a sharp downturn, though. Ryan carried a 3.70 ERA through 107 innings into the All-Star Break. He was tagged for 18 runs in 19 frames in four starts out of the Break, pushing his season mark to a middling 4.43 earned runs per nine.
Whether that was directly tied to his groin concern, the Twins will hope the few weeks off allows Ryan to recapture his early-season form. His return could lead to a roster decision for the front office and manager Rocco Baldelli. Ryan joins Pablo López and Sonny Gray at the top of the rotation. The Twins have filled out the starting staff with Bailey Ober, Kenta Maeda and Dallas Keuchel — whose contract was selected at the time Ryan landed on the IL — this month.
Maeda has a 2.91 ERA while striking out 32% of opponents in 11 starts since returning from an IL stint of his own at the end of June. Ober still has minor league options remaining, but he’s been a quietly effective rotation piece. Over 21 starts and 118 2/3 innings, the third-year hurler owns a 3.41 ERA and has fanned just under a quarter of batters faced. He’s clearly deserving of a spot on the big league staff.
Perhaps that leaves Keuchel as the odd man out. The former Cy Young winner has tossed 13 innings over three outings, allowing seven runs. He has struck out just three against four walks and a hit by pitch. He’s averaging 87.5 MPH on his sinker and has gotten swinging strikes on only 6.3% of his pitches.
On the other hand, Keuchel’s ground-ball rate sits at an excellent 56.3%. That’s not quite at the levels of his peak days in Houston but is markedly above last season’s 50.2% mark. Keuchel also kept the ball on the ground at a huge 61.1% clip through six Triple-A starts before his call-up, posting a 1.13 ERA in the process.
Earlier this week, Dan Hayes of the Athletic wrote that the Twins were considering the possibility of a six-man rotation after Ryan’s activation. That’d allow the coaching staff some flexibility in workload management. Maeda missed all of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, though he’s only at 74 2/3 frames this year. Ober has shouldered the heaviest work of his career in 2023. Including four Triple-A starts in the opening month, he’s at 136 1/3 frames for the year. His previous high for combined innings was 108 1/3 during the ’21 campaign.
Hayes also indicates that piggybacking some combination of Ober, Maeda and Keuchel could be on the table. That’d be another means of limiting workload while reducing the number of times those pitchers face an opponent a third time in a game. While keeping all six starters on the roster would temporarily shorten the bullpen, teams are permitted to add one pitcher to the MLB club on September 1.