Versatile Ryan prepared for next shot with Tigers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Kyle Ryan

Toledo -- It's easy to say, "Don't worry about it."

But it's simply impossible not to think about it.

Kyle Ryan knows he could be with the Tigers any day now. But he wasn't the guy when Justin Verlander went on the disabled list; Kyle Lobstein was. And he wasn't the guy when Joe Nathan went on the DL; Blaine Hardy was.

"I don't let myself worry about it, but then again, I also think about it so I can be ready," Ryan said last week, sitting at his locker in the Mud Hens' clubhouse.

"Blaine taking the other spot, he's had a lot more time than me. Plus, they wanted me to get here to run my innings up."

Ryan is starting in Triple A, but that doesn't mean the Tigers would use him as a spot starter -- it just gives them options. He can start, or he can be called up to be a long-inning guy out of the bullpen or a situation left-hander.

He's prepared for any opportunity, and he might not have to wait that long. He impressed Tigers brass with his six-game/one-start cameo in 2014, and Ryan's recent start at Toledo was an absolute beauty.

He took a perfect game into the sixth inning against Columbus, and took the hard-luck loss despite allowing only one hit and one walk.

"Hardy did a good job last year when he was up there. So did Kyle, but he did it in the last month, where Hardy did it in the meat of the season," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. "One thing he's working on is to get a better breaking ball, so that he can be more dominant against left-handed hitters.

"That's a work in progress."

But make no mistake, there is progress.

Ryan, who's only 23 and was drafted by the Tigers in 2010 out of high school in Florida, has always thrown a curveball. But it's never been very good. His bread and butter are the two-seam fastball and the cutter, and he also throws a four-seamer and a change-up.

The problem with that four-pitch arsenal: Ryan doesn't throw particularly hard, high 80s and low 90s, so there's no a great speed difference in the repertoire. The curveball can give hitters a different look, so he must discover how to throw that consistently, and effectively.

"Something a little bit slower would be good for him, because everything's kinda of the same speed, generally," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "So it would work against righties as well, but I think specifically it would help him against lefties. Then he just has to throw his sinker for strikes."

Ryan threw the curveball last year. It's not like he didn't have it.

But it was more of a "show-me" pitch," something to get over, say, for strike one. It wasn't anything close to a strikeout pitch, or a putaway pitch.

In fact, Ryan doesn't even know if he throws a curveball or a slider. Often, he even calls it a slurve. Sometimes it's sharp, sometimes it's loopy.

"Slider, curveball, whatever people call it. I don't know," he said, smiling. "Sometimes, it does one thing, sometimes, it does another."

As long as it's getting people out, you can call it whatever you want.

As a starter, the Tigers believe Ryan needs the pitch to add depth to his weapons pool, which will give right-handed hitters another look. As a reliever, he needs it to neutralize left-handed hitters. Lefties had three hits in 10 at-bats against Ryan in the majors last year.

"When he's gonna face left-handers, he's gonna need a breaking ball to go along with his sinker and his cutter," said Alex Avila, who caught Ryan's first major-league win last August. "It wasn't exactly an out pitch for him.

"Everything else he's got is really good."

That doesn't just include his pitches.

Ryan's delivery is super-effective -- in that it hides the ball a long time. In fact, this spring, Toledo pitching coach Mike Maroth was working with Ryan on PFP (pitchers fielding practice), and even in that, the first baseman had a hard time picking up the ball.

That's because Ryan's leg kick is very high, and he keeps the ball a long time behind his back.

That deception, maybe more than anything, has made him a prospect, despite the fact he doesn't light up the radar gun.

"He's one of those guys that they just do not see him very well, the other team," Parrish said. "It's halfway there, and, gee, I don't see it. And you don't teach that. Some people have it, some people don't."

Ryan said he hears from catchers and batters that he's deceptive, but it's not something he's worked consciously on.

He said he's had the same delivery since he was 10 years old. Back then, he wasn't 6-foot-5 like he is today. He remembers playing in a tournament in Cooperstown, New York, and his knee would practically touch his chin on delivery.

"I don't throw 98," Ryan said. "I have to make a 'Y' out of the plate."

He then made the "Y" shape, illustrating how he needs to get hitters out: on the corners.

The improved curveball should help there, and should help get him to Detroit before too long -- as a starter or reliever. In that regard, he's in the same boat as Buck Farmer; the next Tigers pitching callup likely will be between those two.

And while Ryan will try his darndest not to worry about it, he'll certainly be thinking about it.

Getting to know Kyle Ryan, LHP

Age: 23 (Sept. 25, 1991)

Born: Auburndale, Florida

Height/weight: 6-foot-5/210

Drafted: By Tigers, 12th round, 2010

Minor-league stats: 37-40, 3.56 ERA, 1.249 WHIP in 116 games (all starts)

Major-league stats: 2-0, 2.61 ERA, 1.161 WHIP in six games (one start)​