JUPITER, Fla. – The push for a playoff spot last year meant that all hands were on deck in the Twins bullpen. Manager Paul Molitor had to shift relievers into different roles as he fought to protect leads and stay in games.
If only he had had more arms he could have relied on, trusted. More relievers like Ryan Pressly.
Molitor has Pressly now.
The righthander has recovered from a lat strain that cost him the final three months of last season. He has proved this spring that he’s healthy and his stuff is as sharp as ever. And Molitor uses the word “comfort” when talking about what it will be like to have Pressly, 27, as someone he can call upon.
No, Pressly hasn’t been officially tabbed as a winner of a spot in the Twins bullpen, but everything points to that. Pressly pitched a scoreless inning in Thursday’s 8-4 victory over the Marlins to lower his spring ERA to 2.00.
“We haven’t announced who all is going to be in that pen yet, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Molitor said. “But Pressly is healthy and throwing the ball well and doing what we hoped he would coming into camp, coming off the rehab he had last fall.”
Pressly spent the final three months of last season rehabbing the injury, cheering from the dugout, watching road games on television and sending text messages to his pitching buddies after good outings.
“Sitting in the dugout and not being able to play last year, it stunk,” Pressly said. “Seeing your teammates out there and not being able to do anything. You see some guys struggling and you want to be out in the pen to help them out.
“Seeing the team being so close to the playoffs and you want to be in that atmosphere and you want to be part of the team when you go on the road. It is what it is.”
It looks as if Pressly will be part of the Twins Experience this season.
In seven outings, Pressly has given up two earned runs over eight innings with four walks and eight strikeouts. And his shoulder has been sound.
“He’s fresh, his ball is crisp,” Molitor said. “He’s got two breaking balls and is using them well.’ ”
A Rule 5 pickup from the Red Sox in 2013, the Twins have had to send Pressly down to the minors a couple times in the two seasons since but have seen him improve a little bit each year. He was called up last season when Tim Stauffer was placed on the disabled list and ended up earning three victories in May, the month the Twins went 20-7.
But his last game was July 4 when he felt something wrong in his shoulder area during an outing at Kansas City. The lat strain landed him on the disabled list. He rehabbed and was making progress until Aug. 20 when he was doing dry work — working on his mechanics by making a throwing motion while not holding a ball.
“I was trying to be Mr. All-America,” said Pressly, who was pushing himself to get return to action. “I felt three pops in my lat and I thought it was scar tissue [breaking up]. The next day, I could not get the ball to 60 feet.”
His season was over. Now he’s ready to make a comeback.
In 52 games over the past two seasons, Pressly has a 2.89 ERA. Last year, he struck out 22 batters in 27⅔ innings, as his fastball averaged a career-high 94.2 miles per hour. He used to throw a slider-curve hybrid — a slurve — but now it has more vertical movement. And he has sharpened his slider. Assuming he makes the team, Pressly likely will be used in the sixth and seventh innings, but could be needed in the eighth some days when others need a break. Pressly hit 95 mph on the radar gun Thursday.
Molitor believes Pressly was just putting everything together when he was injured.
“We’ve seen the ups and downs of a young player, a Rule 5 guy,” Molitor said. “I think last year was the first year I really started to feel he was confident and trusting in his ability out there. Then he got set back with the torn lat. I think he is just coming into his own as a reliever.”
Pressly grinned when told of Molitor’s praise.
“That’s a great compliment from a Hall of Fame player and now manager, to have him in your corner,” Pressly said. “I still have to go out there and keep reminding him that I can do that.’’