As a Minor Leaguer, you rarely get to sleep in your own bed during the season. That isn't the case with Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Kyle Ryan, though.
The left-hander was born and raised in Auburndale, Fla., a short drive from Detroit's Tiger Town training complex and the Lakeland home of its Florida State League team.
"It doesn't even take me 15 minutes to get to the ballpark," Ryan said.
Being ultra-close to home apparently agrees with the 12th-round pick in the 2010 Draft. Enjoying home cooking and familiar surroundings, the 21-year-old is having a breakout season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
Ryan is tied for the FSL lead with 10 victories and tied for fourth with a 2.85 ERA. He's also among the leaders with 123 innings pitched, despite leaving a start early with a blister problem and the short stay on the DL that resulted.
Although he was one of the younger pitchers in the Class A Midwest League the past two seasons, Ryan more than held his own for West Michigan with ERA marks of 3.15 and 3.74.
A new pitch has made him even more effective this season, though.
"The cutter has made a big difference," said the 6-foot-5 Ryan. "With my arm angle and height, it was a good pitch for me. I worked on it last season but didn't use it in games."
Now it's a prime weapon, and Ryan certainly hasn't worn down as the season has gone along. He's 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA in his past 10 starts.
The stretch began with eight scoreless innings at Tampa on June 7 in which he gave up three hits and walked none. Four other times he didn't allow an earned run, giving up just two hits over six innings in a second start at Tampa.
Being so close to home, Ryan would figure to be a draw at Joker Marchant Stadium, but a majority of his starts have been away from Lakeland.
"That's the way the rotation has worked," said Ryan, who was 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 12 road starts and 3-2 with a 3.27 ERA in nine home outings.
Playing close to home definitely has it perks, though, and even catcher John Murrian was enjoying Ryan's situation. He stayed in a spare room at the Auburndale house before being called up to Triple-A Toledo as a fill-in recently.
Ryan grew up going to Tigers games during Spring Training, and Detroit was the team that followed him the most closely.
The Auburndale High School standout committed to the University of South Florida after pitching for gold medal-winning Team USA in the Pan Am Championships in Venezuela in 2010, but signed with the Tigers for a $100,000 bonus instead.
Detroit liked his potential, and now that potential is becoming more and more obvious to other teams as well.
After Ryan worked 158 2/3 innings last season, the Tigers didn't have him pitch last fall in the Instructional League.
"They wouldn't even let me pick up a ball," he said.
Instead, he just worked on getting stronger for this season and stayed at the Tiger Town complex during the winter to get as prepared as possible for this season.
Family and friends have been able to share his success with him. No longer was a long trip to Michigan required to watch him pitch.
It was during one of those trips in July 2011, though, that Ryan almost entered the Midwest League record book.
He pitched six no-hit innings against Lansing, but was taken out after 80 pitches without a chance to complete the seven-inning opener of a doubleheader. Worse yet, the bullpen blew a 4-0 lead and West Michigan ended up losing in extra innings.
Just 19 at the time, Ryan showed his maturity afterward.
"Oh yeah. Who doesn't?" Ryan said when asked if he wanted the no-hitter. "But it's a team sport. Sometimes it's going to happen that way. It's life. Another ballgame. It's not all about yourself."
Ryan may get another chance at a no-no. He's got an extra pitch now with the cutter and an additional two years of experience.
Finally taken deep: Daytona righty C.J. Edwards gave up the first homer of his professional career when Tampa second baseman Ali Castillo hit a two-run shot in the second inning Saturday. Edwards, acquired by the Chicago Cubs from Texas in the Matt Garza trade, had gone 168 innings before anyone took him deep. The Cubs' No. 12 prospect was making his third start for Daytona after going 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 18 games with Class A Hickory. Edwards, 21, is 0-0 with a 2.79 ERA for the Cubs, working just 9 2/3 innings because of rain interruptions and pitch limits.
RBI race a battle: St. Lucie outfielder Dustin Lawley has a substantial lead in the home run race with 24 -- six more than Fort Myers first baseman Kennys Vargas and Brevard County first baseman Nick Ramirez. But he's in a tight battle with Vargas for the RBI crown. Lawley has driven in 88 runs and Vargas 86. Palm Beach outfielder Dave Popkins has gained enough plate appearances to qualifying for the batting title, but his .327 average isn't close to Jupiter outfielder Brent Keys' .358.
Heat wave breaks: Palm Beach first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez finally cooled off after hitting .381 in July and .394 in the first eight games of August. He had 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 33 games during the torrid stretch, which was broken when he went 1-for-15 in the next three games through Monday. Rodriguez, 23, is hitting .297 with 32 doubles, 15 homers and 68 RBIs through 106 games. His OPS of .877 was second in the league.