MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Q&A: Ryan on the art of the strikeout

50 years ago, Hall of Famer notched the first of many K's

Q&A: Ryan on the art of the strikeout

Nolan Ryan pitched a record seven no-hitters and struck out a record 5,714 batters in a big league career that covered 27 seasons. He led a league in strikeouts 11 times, including four times after the age of 40.

Claudell Washington was Ryan's most common strikeout victim, going down 39 times in 102 plate appearances. Rod Carew, a fellow Hall of Famer, and his teammate briefly with the Angels, tied with Larry Hisle for fourth on the strikeout list with 29.

But it was pitcher Pat Jarvis who became the 19-year-old Ryan's first big league strikeout 50 years ago on Sunday. Jarvis, in fact, struck out in four of the six times he faced Ryan during his career.

Ryan is the subject of this week's Q&A:

MLB.com: That debut in 1966, what do you remember?

Ryan: I came on in relief that first game against the Braves. I had to face Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Felipe Alou, Joe Torre, some big-time hitters. I had no clue about being in the big leagues. I'm 19 and spent the summer at the low-A level, made three starts at Double-A, and there I was in the big leagues, the year after being drafted and signed. The first batter I faced was the Braves' pitcher, Pat Jarvis. I don't remember much about facing him. There was a lot going on in my mind.

MLB.com: Then came your first start, against the Astros.

Ryan: It was a week later, and it was awful. One inning, four runs. I faced all nine batters in the lineup. I'm a year and a half out of high school, and I'm starting at home [in Houston]. I was overthrowing like crazy. I had given up a walk, two singles and a double before I got the first out, a strikeout of Rusty Staub. All three outs were strikeouts. Staub, Bob Aspromonte, who was hitting seventh, and the pitcher, Bob Bruce.

MLB.com: What's the key to strikeouts?

Ryan: It has been proven it is not just velocity. There have been some awfully hard throwers who never struck people out. Part of it has to do with how soon the hitter picks the ball up out of the pitcher's hand.

MLB.com: The key pitch?

Ryan: All the great strikeout pitchers -- Clayton Kershaw, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson or any of the 3,000-strikeout guys -- had breaking balls. Look at Steve Carlton, he had that devastating slider to go with his fastball. He was not a very hard thrower, but he had a good fastball and an exceptional slider.

MLB.com: Strikeouts are up. Any particular reason?

Ryan: Now a days, hitters approach things differently, and the way the bullpen is used brings in big upside arms, so starters might face a hitter three times, and then there are fresh arms. The hitters are more aggressive than they used to be. They don't care about striking out. It used to be hitters wanted to make contact. With two strikes, they were looking to put a ball in play.

MLB.com: Does a strikeout really make a difference?

Ryan: I am a believer that the worst thing a hitter can do is strike out. A lot of computer guys say it isn't. The way I look at it, if you don't put the ball in play, there is no chance of doing anything. There's no hitter. There's no error. There's no advancing a runner.

MLB.com: Particular guys tougher for you than others?

Ryan: Certain hitters are going to be hard to strike out. You had to make good pitches. Left-hander contact hitters didn't swing at bad pitches. They could hit the fastball and were willing to go the other way, guys like George Brett, Rod Carew and Manny Lee. Early in my career with the Mets -- big left-handed hitters, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey types -- really got me. I couldn't get the curveball over and they could hit the fastball.

MLB.com: Toughest hitters for you?

Ryan: I faced Rod Carew so much. He was a leadoff guy, and for so much of our careers, we were in the same division. George Brett was a good contact hitter with power. Dick Allen and Mike Schmidt didn't swing at bad pitches. They forced you to come after them. Manny Sanguillen was the opposite, he didn't care where the pitch was. He could hit it and he did.

MLB.com: Two of my favorite stories are when Bobby Grich came to the Angels and got on you about striking him out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the no-hitter against the Orioles.

Ryan: I threw a changeup 3-2. He just dropped the bat and stared. He had fouled off two fastballs with two strikes, so I went with the changeup.

MLB.com: And Norm Cash coming to bat for the Tigers for the final out in that no-hitter with a table leg? He was your final out and 17th strikeout.

Ryan: (Umpire) Ron Luciano told him he couldn't hit with a table leg. He told Luciano he couldn't hit with a bat, either.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.