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Zulgad’s Roundup: Twins to go with rookie starter in opener; Vikings don’t upgrade at guard

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Minnesota Twins
Sep 1, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan (74) throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The assumption was that veteran righthander Sonny Gray would get his fourth career Opening Day start when the Twins acquired him on March 13 from the Cincinnati Reds. But with Gray not completely stretched out, the decision has been made to go with rookie righty Joe Ryan on Thursday against Seattle at Target Field.

Ryan, acquired from Tampa Bay last season in the Nelson Cruz trade, will be only the third pitcher in the Expansion Era (since 1961)  to make an Opening Day start within his first six career games, joining Jose Guzman of the 1986 Rangers and Steve Busby of the 1973 Royals, according to MLB.com. Ryan will be the first rookie to start on Opening Day for the Twins since lefthander Tom Hall in 1969.

Ryan, who will turn 26 on June 5, made five appearances for the Twins last season after being called up in September. He went 2-1 with a 4.05 ERA, walking five and striking out 30 in 26.2 innings. He had a perfect game into the seventh inning on Sept. 8 against Cleveland, giving up one hit in seven innings with no walks and four strikeouts in a 3-0 victory.

Ryan has had a strong spring, although the lockout has made it impossible for pitchers to get their ordinary work. Four of the 19 batters Ryan has faced have gotten on base and he has given up no runs. Ryan also has struck out six.

“He’s pitched well from the first day I’ve ever seen him pitch, and came into camp in a really good spot, put himself in a good position, and this is the way things fell for him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters. “The reason things fall like this is because the player did such a great job getting ready to go, and he’s continued to go out there and pitch well in all types of outings all spring long.”

  • Hall gave up three runs (one earned), nine hits, walked none and struck out two in a 4-3 Opening Day loss to host Kansas City on April 8, 1969. Hall did not get a decision and went 8-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 31 games and 18 starts that season. Hall, like Ryan, had made his big-league debut the previous season and pitched in eight games in 1968. Hall, now 74, pitched 10 major league seasons and went 52-33 with a 3.27 ERA and 32 saves in 358 games and 63 starts with the Twins, Reds, Royals and Mets.
  • The manager who gave Hall that start? Rookie skipper Billy Martin, who guided the Twins to a 97-65 finish and first-place in the American League West. The Twins were swept in three games by the Baltimore Orioles in the first-ever American League Championship Series. Charley Walters, whose long-running notes column every other Sunday in the Pioneer Press is a must-read, pitched in six games for the Twins that season. Walters had been signed out of a Twins tryout camp. That was his only big-league season.
  • While the Twins will start Ryan on Thursday, the Mariners will go with free agent addition Robbie Ray. The lefthander won the AL Cy Young award last season with the Toronto Blue Jays before signing a five-year, $115 million deal that has an opt-out after the third season. Ray went 13-7 with an AL-best 2.84 ERA in 32 starts last season. He also struck out an MLB-best 248 in a league-high 193.1 innings.
  • Considering the Vikings are all in for the 2022 season, and committed to making Kirk Cousins as successful as possible, it’s a head-scratcher that the team appears content with bringing back 2019 first-round center Garrett Bradbury and having a competition between Oli Udoh, Wyatt Davis and newcomer Jesse Davis for the starting right guard position. At least we assume those three will compete for the job. Udoh started last season, after being moved from tackle, and struggled. Jesse Davis had a poor season at right tackle for the Dolphins last season and the hope is he will be better at guard. Wyatt Davis was a third-round pick in 2021 but did not get in for an offensive snap.
  • Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, who returned to the Vikings on a reported one-year deal worth $4 million, will count $3.1 million toward the team’s salary cap for 2022, according to Scoopmaster Darren (Doogie) Wolfson of SKOR North and KSTP-TV. There are $1 million in incentives, but Wolfson reports those are all postseason based.
  • The Vikings have until May 2 to decide whether they will pick up the fifth-year option (for 2023) on Bradbury’s rookie contract. The Vikings could look to draft a center this April and have him eventually replace Bradbury.
  • The Wild have scratched defenseman Alex Goligoski for the past three games, but rewarded the veteran with a two-year, $4 million extension this week. Goligoski has put up good numbers, including being a plus-34, but the 36-year-old’s play dropped off as the season progressed. Goligoski is playing this season on a one-year, $5 million contract.
  • So why bring back Goligoski? Bill Guerin certainly has a plan and with the Wild set to face salary-cap issues beginning next season one has to wonder if the Wild GM is bracing for an offseason trade involving Matt Dumba. Dumba will be entering the final season of his contract in 2022-23 with a $6 million salary-cap hit and will be in for a big payday after that. Guerin also is likely trying to figure out a way to keep winger Kevin Fiala, who will be a restricted free agent for a final season in 2022-23 and entered Thursday third on the team with 23 goals. Fiala is making $5.1 million this season and his goal-scoring abilities aren’t easy to find.