Detroit — It was supposed to be a spot start for Kyle Ryan.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones and manager Brad Ausmus had seemingly come to the consensus that Ryan and the team would be best served by the lefty pitching out of the bullpen. But with a doubleheader Monday, the Tigers needed a sixth starter and Ryan got the call.
Seven strong innings later, in the Tigers’ 2-0 loss to the White Sox in Game 1 Monday, and it may not be one start and done for Ryan.
“Kyle did a great job,” Ausmus said. “He got us deep in the game and he did an excellent job saving our bullpen for Game 2.”
Did Ryan earn another start?
“That hasn’t been discussed at this point,” Ausmus said.
Ryan has said he prefers working out of the bullpen, but added, “As long as I’m on the field, it doesn’t matter.”
He looked comfortable and in control Monday. He gave up two runs and six hits. Other than Carlos Sanchez (who had a double, home run and scored both runs), the rest of the White Sox were a combined 4 for 22 with 10 groundball outs against him.
“I felt phenomenal,” he said. “Everything was working. I made two boo-boos, one big one. Other than that, I felt good.”
Since Ryan returned to the Tigers from Toledo in early August, he’s given up six runs in 19 innings, with just four walks. This from a player who it seemed had pitched himself out of the Tigers’ plans for 2016.
“He’s always had this in him,” said Bryan Holaday, who was his catcher in Toledo and caught him on Monday. “I think he’s really starting to figure it out. It’s really coming together for him. He’s not necessarily trying to make pitches. He’s just trusting his stuff and trusting his ability to make pitches.”
After being one of the final cuts out of spring training, Ryan struggled mightily at Toledo. Through July he was 0-9 with an ERA over 5.00. The Tigers called him up at the end of May and he was beat around pretty good.
He made nine appearances and five starts. He was 0-2, allowing 16 runs and 10 walks in 232/3 innings in the five starts and was sent back down.
But something clicked early in August. He won his last four starts in Toledo and came back to the Tigers a different pitcher.
“It was just going back to the old me,” Ryan said. “Just filling up the (strike) zone. Let the hitters do me a job and get themselves out. I’ve been able to do that with all my pitches, really. The ability to throw my changeup and curveball in the zone and out of the zone when I want has been huge.”
He hasn’t added a pitch to his repertoire. He still throws a four-seam fastball and two-seam sinker anywhere from 88 to 91 mph. He still throws the curveball and changeup off of the fastball.
The difference is, he’s commanding those pitches and throwing them with conviction.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Holaday said. “If you are putting the ball in better places, you start to get more confidence. ... There was a time he was trying to use his sinker when he should’ve been trying to throw his four-seam.
“He’s really getting comfortable with that now. His ability to establish when to throw the sinker and when to throw the four-seam has really been effective.”
Ryan said he never lost faith in himself.
“I was down a little bit,” he said. “But, nothing I couldn’t come back from.”
One of the hurdles he had as a starter was getting outs the second and third time through the order. He did not have that problem Monday.
“Same mentality,” he said. “I think it’s just something about Chicago.”
That was his third start against the White Sox. He pitched six shutout innings against them last Aug. 30 in his major league debut. Back on June 5 of this season, he started and allowed three hits and two runs over seven innings.
“Don’t say I own them,” Ryan said. “We can knock on some wood here.”
The Tigers already have removed left-hander Kyle Lobstein from the starting rotation. Veteran Randy Wolf, who got the start in Game 2, has allowed 14 runs in 11 innings over his last three starts.
If Wolf struggles again, Ausmus could slot Ryan into his spot in the rotation for at least the next start.