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How Hunter Wood’s cutter helped create the Rays minor league strikeout leader

Hunter Wood only spent three days in Port Charlotte on his rehab assignment, but one of his pitches is still in use with the Stone Crabs.

ST. PETERSBURG – When Hunter Hood went down to Port Charlotte for a rehab assignment, he expected it to be a short stint to get him back to Tampa Bay with the Rays. He only stayed with the Stone Crabs for three games in May, but one of his pitches has persevered with prospect Joe Ryan.

Ryan, the Rays minor league leader in strikeouts, earned the call from Class A Bowling Green to advanced Class A Charlotte on May 13. That same day, the Rays assigned Wood to Charlotte for his rehab assignment to return from right shoulder soreness.

Both players needed a partner for pregame catch, so they paired up by chance, Wood said. After tossing the ball back and forth several times, both players began throwing their off-speed pitches. Wood tossed him a few changeups before he started throwing his cutter to Ryan.

“We just played catch and he threw a couple to me, and I said, ‘I need that pitch,’” Ryan said.

Wood has developed into his primary strikeout pitch this season. He has thrown his cutter 29.9% of the time this season, collecting 15 of his 22 strikeouts on the pitch. Wood’s cutter sits from 85 to 88 mph, and he regularly uses it against right-handed batters.

Rays' right-handed pitcher Hunter Woods' pitch chart against right-handed batters. His cutters appear as black squares. [Courtesy of FanGraphs]

Ryan, 23, said that the new cutter has played a big role in his strikeout numbers this season. Ryan has racked up 134 strikeouts across 91 1/3 innings between Bowling Green and Charlotte.

Wood said that the collaboration with Ryan is an example of how pitchers in the Rays organization work together.

“We’re always picking each other’s brains here,” Wood said. “With each pitch, one grip might not suit one guy, but another grip can change a pitcher’s arsenal real quick.”

Wood’s grip on the cutter, an off-centered four-seam fastball, is working for Ryan, and the prospect said it’s now his main secondary pitch after his fastball.

Since Ryan’s promotion in May, he has struck out 87 batters in 63 2/3 innings of work. In that time, he has gone 6-2 with a 1.70 ERA for the Stone Crabs. In addition to his newly acquired cutter, Ryan mixes in a fastball, changeup and curveball.

Rays right-handed pitching prospect Joe Ryan appears in a bullpen session before a game against the Fort Myers Miracle on June 25, 2019. [Ryan Kolakowski]

Ryan said that his results have come from his regular work with Stone Crabs pitching coach Steve “Doc” Watson. He and his catchers create game plans that focus on filling up the strike zone.

“Strikeouts are just a result of good execution,” Ryan said.

Ryan, the Rays’ No. 17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is scheduled to make his next start today in Clearwater, giving Rays fans in Tampa Bay a live view of his strikeout prowess.

The Charlotte Stone Crabs take on the Clearwater on Thursday at Spectrum Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Contact Ryan Kolakowski at Follow @ryankolakowski.