Tigers’ Kyle Ryan loves life in bullpen

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland — Here’s what we can say with some certainty about the Tigers rotation for 2016:

■ Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez will be at the top of it.

■ General manager Al Avila will seek to sign two veteran free agents this offseason.

■ Left-handers Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Kyle Lobstein, and right-handers Shane Greene, Michael Fulmer, Buck Farmer and Luis Cessa will battle for the fifth spot.

“Competition is always great,” pitching coach Jeff Jones said. “We picked up some pretty good young arms in the trades that we made at the deadline. I don’t think it’s ever an unhealthy thing to have more guys.”

You might notice one name missing from that competition — lefty Kyle Ryan.

He has been a starter since the Tigers drafted him in the 12th round in 2010 — until this year. He was given a chance to make the Tigers out of spring training as a reliever, and even though it didn’t happen, he has developed an affinity for bullpen work.

“I talked to Kyle about it and I know he thinks he’s better suited to be a reliever,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “And quite frankly, I agree.”

No binding organizational decision has been made, but, as Ausmus said, “The truth is, if he’s more comfortable being a reliever, then he’ll be more successful as a reliever.”

It’s been a trying year for Ryan, but it may also prove to be a pivotal one. He was 1-11 as a starter in Toledo from April through July. But in August, everything fell back into place.

He went 4-0 for the Mud Hens with a 1.24 ERA and 1.034 WHIP.

Since being called up to Detroit, he has pitched well out of the bullpen (2-1, three runs in 71/3 innings).

“My preference is the pen,” Ryan said. “I just feel more comfortable. It’s weird to say, but I feel more comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Like many contented relief pitchers, Ryan is an adrenaline junky.

“I live off that adrenaline rush,” he said. “I live off the fans and the situation. In the starting role, I have to get comfortable. I have to get my mind right.”

And he has to pace himself as a starter and worry about getting hitters out, not one time through, but two and three times through the order.

“I mean, my mind has to be right coming out of the bullpen, too,” Ryan said. “You are put in a situation, first and third and one out and you have to get a double play. Obviously your mind has to be right. You have to be able to calm yourself down to make the pitch.”

Ryan’s stuff is well-suited for the bullpen. He’s not overpowering. His four-seam fastball registers between 89-91 mph. Since working in relief, his fastball has been firmer. He also has a cutter that can be effective against right-handers and a sinker that’s extremely tough on lefties.

He can be a long reliever or a situational lefty.

“It’s not so much about being able to go all-out,” he said. “If the game goes extra innings or something, I need to be able to go as long as I can. But for some reason, because of the adrenalin, the miles-per-hour goes up.”

Ryan’s season turned around in August when he got back to pitching aggressively in the strike zone. He walked 11 batters and fell behind consistently in his five big league starts (29 innings) this season. He’s only walked one since he’s been back.

“In years past, I was aggressive throwing my four-seamer inside to right-handers and the cutter in on right-handers,” Ryan said. “When I got called up to the big leagues (earlier in the season), I kind of got away from that. I tried to be a sinker guy, trying to be more of an off-speed guy.

“I’ve gone back to attacking with my fastball and then trying to get guys out with the other stuff.”

Ryan has put himself in position to win one of the lefty relievers roles next season. Blaine Hardy is the top lefty out of the pen. Ian Krol and possibly Tom Gorzelanny (who will be a free agent) could also be in the hunt.