Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ best reliever amidst the misery of the 2016 season. He led the bullpen in appearances (72), innings (75 1/3) and had an ERA of 3.70. He turned 28 during the offseason and there seemed to be two potential roles for him in 2017:
Primary set-up man for closer Brandon Kintzler, or the closer if Kintzler were to falter.
The first couple of outings were fine for Pressly, but then he was knocked around three times in April and slipped in the pecking order in the bullpen. Kintzler was a success as the closer (before being traded July 31), Matt Belisle and Taylor Rogers were the set-up men, and Tyler Duffey earned more trust from Paul Molitor and his staff than Pressly.
I was a Twitter defender of Pressly during these struggles. Every time a “get rid of him’’ appeared in my feed, I’d respond with, “He has the best stuff in the bullpen,’’ or, “He would get picked up in a heartbeat.’’
Trouble was, Pressly’s bad moments seemed to arrive in the most-crucial at-bats. On June 1, the Twins sent him to Class AAA Rochester, and he spent all but four days back in the minors during that chaotic month of Twins’ pitching moves.
Pressly came back on July 1 and has stayed, but he has not regained his status as a trusted arm. Molitor has been riding Belisle as his closer, and Rogers and rookie Trevor Hildenberger as the primary options when games are close and late. Alan Busenitz also has been relied to a higher degree than Pressly.
And yet, when Pressly enters a game, he’s still bringing the best pitches that a Twins reliever has to offer: a fastball that hits 98 miles per hour, and breaking pitches that are either sharp or drop two feet.
“The stuff plays,’’ Molitor said. “Sometimes, he can be his own worst enemy.’’
That wasn’t the case on Friday night. Bartolo Colon had been using most of the in-bounds property available in Target Field to record fly outs, while also giving up home runs to Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson.
The Twins were leading 3-2 and it was something of a surprise that Molitor sent out Colon for the seventh. The main reason was Hildenberger and Rogers had been well-used and Molitor wanted to stay away from them if possible.
So, he tried to get one more inning out of Colon, but Big Bart walked Pillar and then Russell Martin doubled past Eddie Rosario in left field to bring in the tying run.
The Twins needed some power pitching now, and in came Pressly. Ryan Goins bunted, to Eduardo Escobar didn’t come from third to make the play, and the ball hopped away from Pressly.
First and third, no outs.
Pressly retired Teoscar Hernandez on a short fly and struck out Richard Urena. He had a chance to get out of the inning, with Donaldson at the plate.
Pressly was throwing in the high 90s, and he got ahead in the count. Then, for some goofy reason, ,Pressly did Donaldson the favor of throwing him a breaking pitch, and he slapped the ball back toward the mound.
If the ball had stayed on course, it was headed to Brian Dozier near second and Donaldson would have been the third out. Instead, the ball hit Pressly in the foot, ricocheted away, and Donald had what turned out to be the game-winning RBI.
“I wasn’t kicking at it; I was trying to not get hit with the ball, because I knew [Dozier] was playing up the middle,’’ Pressly said. “For some reason, my foot got stuck there in the ground and the ball hit it.’’
This was pretty much of the story of Pressly’s season – ill-advised pitches thrown at game-turning moments, combined with bad luck.
Pressly has now pitched in 50 games, with 54 1/3 innings, a 4.95 ERA and 55 strikeouts.
Pressly is being paid $1.175 million in 2017, the first season in which he was eligible for arbitration. It’s going to cost $3 million or more to keep him for 2018. There might a fair share of Twins followers saying, “Get rid of him.’’
And I remain in the opposite camp. Pressly still has the best power pitches in the Twins bullpen. He will be 29 in December, so he’s not a kid, but I’m keeping him for another shot. There’s no reason for that stuff not to play