This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
ST. LOUIS — Ryan Helsley hasn’t just been one of the most dominant relief pitchers out of the Cardinals’ bullpen this season. He’s been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in all of baseball.
Helsley? The same guy with the 5.25 ERA in 2020 and 4.56 ERA in 2021? The same guy with a 9-5 record and just two MLB saves before this season?
Yes, and yes! Helsley, finally healthy following offseason knee surgery, held the title earlier this season for the fastest pitch of the year when he blew a 103.1 mph fastball by Arizona’s Ketel Marte. In 13 appearances, he has yet to allow an earned run. Only two of the 52 hitters he has faced have gotten hits. Half of those batters (26) have struck out for a jaw-dropping 14.94 strikeouts-per-9-innings rate that would be first in MLB if he had enough innings to qualify. As if that weren’t enough, his strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.67) would rank second and his WHIP (0.32) is even better than Brewers star Josh Hader (0.51).
Helsley, 27 and a native of Tahlequah, Okla., recently fielded questions about his dominant 2022:
MLB.com: When was the first time you thought being a Major League Baseball player was possible?
Helsley: During college (at NAIA Northeastern State), I played Summer Ball in California, and I started throwing harder. I was playing against a lot of big-time Division I guys. I wasn’t dominating, but I was having success and that really turned the lightbulb on for me. It showed me I could pitch against better players than where I was at in college. That Fall, when I got back to college, there were scouts coming to campus every day and talking to me because I was throwing a lot harder. That’s when it clicked for me that this might be possible.
MLB.com: How old were you the first time you threw a baseball 100 mph and what was that feeling like?
Helsley: It was 2016, I think. I was in Peoria (Single-A), and I was a starting pitcher. Actually, I don’t even remember what pitch it was. After the game somebody told me, ‘Hey, you hit 100 today!’ To me, that was crazy because I never thought I’d be one of those guys throwing that hard.
MLB.com: You threw a pitch at 103.1 mph — which, at the time, was the fastest pitch in the season (since broken by the Twins’ Jhoan Duran at 103.3 mph). What was the reaction of your teammates, friends and family and how cool was it to hold that honor?
Helsley: It was fun. It’s just a product of me feeling healthy, arm feeling good and my body moving around well. I’m just trying to stay in a good place and continue having fun.
MLB.com: What’s the favorite moment of your baseball career?
Helsley: Probably my debut (April 16, 2019) and having my family there. I got one hour of sleep that night and still got into the game. That was a special moment to accomplish that dream. I actually wasn’t too nervous when I got into the game. I was more nervous in the bullpen waiting for my name to get called. Once you get on the mound, it’s the same thing as pitching since you were little and just starting out in baseball.
The game was in Milwaukee, and I struck out four batters, but I gave up a home run to [Christian] Yelich — the first batter I faced. I had him down 0-2 and he ended up working a good at-bat out of it and hit a homer. But after that, I ended up pitching 2 1/3 scoreless and I pitched pretty good.
MLB.com: Who has been the most influential teammate you’ve ever had?
Helsley: [Adam Wainwright] is a really good one, and so is [Yadier Molina]. Those guys have played so many games and have had so much success. [Paul Goldschmidt] is another one. Those guys are great not only talking about baseball, but about life. We’ve got a really good clubhouse. I was talking to [Harrison] Bader the other day about the hitters they have around them to learn from. Nolan [Arenado] and Goldy have been two of the best hitters in baseball over the last 10 years. Then, you have [Albert] Pujols, who was the best hitter of the 10 years before that. So, we have three of the best hitters of the last 20 years in this clubhouse. It’s amazing to look around sometimes and realize what you are a part of here with the Cardinals.