Ryan Pressly found it a little weird to walk past the Twins clubhouse Monday, but he saw no need to thumb his nose.
The Houston Astros reliever offered no disparaging words about his former employer in his first return to Target Field since being traded last July. He even downplayed changes made in his approach that have transformed him into a dominating late-inning stopper.
“He’s building quite a case to being one of the best relievers in baseball,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Thanks for the reminder.
The decision to unload Pressly looks regrettable with the Twins off to a strong start this season and their bullpen lacking depth, though that unit locked down a 1-0 victory over Houston in the series opener.
Pressly’s trade reinforced the notion that the Falvey/Levine regime is taking a wait-and-see approach and determined to replenish the farm system. Long term, maybe they will be proven right.
Short term, Pressly would be valuable on a Twins team that might prove to be a contender this summer. Pressly owns the Astros team record scoreless streak by a reliever at 30⅓ innings, dating to last year.
Houston’s coaching staff encouraged Pressly to use his curveball more, and the results have been dramatic. Since the trade, he has a 0.50 ERA with 45 strikeouts and only three walks in 35⅔ innings.
Pressly threw curveballs on 24.5% of his pitches for the Twins last year. His curveball rate jumped to 37.4% after joining the Astros — a higher rate than his fastball.
His fastball velocity hovers around 96 miles per hour, but using his curve more has turned him into one of baseball’s most effective relievers.
If Houston’s staff unlocked something in him that the Twins staff never accomplished, Pressly has no interest in fueling that narrative.
“[People] can think whatever they want,” he said. “I’ve always had the stuff. It’s just been me being able to make it all click. It wasn’t anybody over there, it wasn’t anybody over here. I’m the one that’s got the ball in my hand. I’m the one that’s got to do it.”
In an ironic twist, his career turnaround began against his current team in 2017 in a miserable outing that included a ball hit so hard and far that Pressly joked that he hurt his neck watching it soar.
“I’m pretty sure I got some whiplash from that homer,” he said.
That towering home run — a 473-foot blast by Houston’s George Springer — did more than give Pressly whiplash. He earned a demotion to Class AAA Rochester after the game.
Pressly and Springer laugh about it now because they’re teammates and because Pressly is no longer a scuffling reliever trying to find his footing in the big leagues.
Pressly said his success stems not simply from throwing his curveball more but from being able to throw it for strikes in any situation. That process, he said, started in spring training 2018 when then-Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston gave him freedom to experiment.
The Astros were at the forefront of analyzing pitchers’ spin rate, and Pressly ranks among the best in MLB in fastest spin rate. Hinch said the organization has a “pretty long history of trying to squeeze the extra 5 percent out of everybody” through analytics. Pressly shrugged when asked about his spin rate.
“I don’t know anything about that stuff,” he said.
So why does his spin rate get so much attention?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just what everybody is fascinated with. You can have all the spin rate in the world, but if you throw it down the middle, it’s still going to get hit out.”
Whatever the reason(s), Pressly has gone from demotion to dominance in less than two seasons.
“I don’t blame them for sending me down [in 2017],” he said. “I was horrific.”
He was, however, surprised to be traded last season, even though the Twins front office had shifted into sell mode at the deadline.
“The only time I had a slight idea was when I was in the bullpen in the extra innings [vs. Boston in July] and hadn’t thrown yet,” he said. “I was kind of scratching my head. I had a feeling something was up. Once I got in the clubhouse, they told me.”