Ryan evolves, emerges as Tigers' 2nd lefty reliever

Ryan evolves, emerges as Tigers' 2nd lefty reliever

DETROIT -- The Tigers sent Kyle Ryan to Triple-A Toledo three weeks ago with instruction to improve his offspeed pitches. He went down and worked on locating his fastball.

It sounds like Ryan wasn't listening, but he knew exactly what he was doing.

"My offspeed, I was throwing it well, but I wasn't setting it up the correct way," he explained Thursday morning before earning the victory in a 5-4 win over Seattle in the afternoon. "What I mean by that is, in order for me to keep batters off-balance and throw my offspeed in the correct way, I need to set it up with a fastball on the inside half, to get them out with my offspeed away.

"So I went down there, in my mind, needing to throw sinkers in and find it again and get comfortable throwing lefties inside. And once I could throw lefties inside, I knew I could have that outer half."

The result since his return to the Majors last week has been an upgrade for a Tigers bullpen that desperately needed a second lefty to support Justin Wilson.

Ryan's perfect relief earns win

Ryan took the extra-inning loss in his return last Sunday at Kansas City after two hits and an error. Since then, he has ended three jams against the Mariners by retiring All-Star Robinson Cano -- striking him out with two runners on Monday, inducing a first-pitch groundout Wednesday to strand the bases loaded, then striking him out on three pitches with the potential go-ahead run on first in the 10th inning Thursday.

"He created the problem," manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday, referring to an errant pickoff throw that put a runner on third before Cano came up, "but he did an outstanding job of getting out of it. Since he got called back up, he's been outstanding for us."

O'Malley reaches third on error

It has been a huge confidence boost for Ryan, who made his mark as a rookie in 2014 by going after a left-handed-hitting star like Joe Mauer in a jam.

"He's had one hell of a season, one hell of a career," Ryan said of Cano. "For a guy like me that's not going to blow his doors off, to go in there and be able to get him out, especially in one pitch, it's pretty cool. It also helped me get out of that inning."

Ryan has posted 4 2/3 scoreless innings with two hits and six strikeouts over his last three outings. Cano is now 0-for-5 against him in his career.

"I think his breaking ball's better," Ausmus said. "He's using his sinker in a little bit more. It's a combination."

It's the entire repertoire, and the sequencing of pitches, that Ryan has focused on. It's something he probably wouldn't have done in previous years, but with experience, he gets it now. He has focused on throwing his curveball for a strike so that he can make hitters chase it later. He makes his offspeed pitches better by spotting fastballs.

That was the key Thursday, by which point Ryan seemed to be in Cano's head. All three pitches Ryan threw him were fastballs; Cano took the first two for strikes before flailing at the third one off the plate.

"If I can throw everything for a strike, including the fastball on the inside half, whether they swing at it or not, if I can command all my pitches and do what I need to do, it should work," Ryan said.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.