FORT MYERS, FLA. – Pitcher Ryan Pressly was in his fifth season with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2012, when he was promoted to Class AA Portland (Maine) and put in the bullpen for 14 games.
The Twins saw him strike out 18 batters in 14 innings in the Arizona Fall League and took him with the fourth selection in the 2012 Rule 5 draft. The main rule is that a player thus selected must spend the next season with the major league club, or to be placed on waivers and if unclaimed, returned for half-price to his former club.
“All I knew is that it meant I would be in major league camp,” Pressly said. “I’ve found out that the odds of being on the team all year are against you in that situation.”
Pressly stayed all year and manager Ron Gardenhire actually used him in 49 games and for 76⅔ innings, second behind long reliever Anthony Swarzak in the 2013 bullpen.
The Twins have taken seven Rule 5 players — all pitchers — in the past 11 winter meetings. Jason Jones and Terry Doyle didn’t pitch for the Twins, J.R. Graham lasted for the 2015 season, Justin Haley lasted until July 24 in 2017, and Scott Diamond made 58 starts from 2011 to 2013.
There are two Rule 5 products in this big-league camp: Tyler Kinley, a righthander selected as a 27-year-old last December, and Pressly, 29, with no more options to be returned to the minor leagues.
So, basically, Pressly is in the same situation he was six seasons ago: Either the Twins keep him or he goes elsewhere. And he’s still the guy trying to convince the Twins there’s a big payoff to come by sticking with that power arm — the fastball in the high 90s and the big curveball.
The difference is this is no longer a wide-eyed young man from Texas wondering what it’s about. This is a veteran who has made more appearances (156) for the Twins over the previous three seasons than any pitcher, and knowing what it will take to get better.
It’s not working harder. Pressly is a fanatic about that. It’s not better “stuff.” There isn’t a more potent arm in the bullpen.
What is it?
“I can’t repeat the first half of last season,” Pressly said. “I have to get my breaking ball over on a consistent basis. If I can use the breaking ball off my fastball, I will help this team win.
“We’ve added Fernando [Rodney], Addison [Reed] and Zach Duke. Hildy [Trevor Hildenberger] and Taylor [Rogers] were outstanding last year. This is going to be a deep, strong bullpen, and I want to be another reason for that.”
There was no question of Pressly’s job status entering 2017: When holding leads, manager Paul Molitor was going to use Matt Belisle in front of closer Brandon Kintzler, with Pressly and lefthander Rogers in front of them.
Pressly pitched his way out of that duty. He was optioned twice to Class AAA Rochester in June. He returned July 1, and the results were still wanting.
On July 25 in Dodger Stadium, Pressly relieved Hildenberger, gave up three consecutive hits and turned a 4-2 deficit into 6-2. He followed with four outs, three on strikeouts.
Maybe that was it.
At the end of that night in L.A., Pressly had appeared in 32 games, with seven home runs allowed, a 6.75 ERA and a .279 batting average against. He pitched in 25 games after that, with three home runs allowed, a 2.25 ERA and a .163 batting average against.
Asked this week about Pressly, Molitor said: “We’ve all seen stretches where his elevation to the role he played was significant; other times, he’s maybe dipped back. He’d be the first guy to tell you he gets frustrated when his stuff doesn’t work out.
“He may have the mind-set of, ‘OK, I’m going to use my fastball more,’ and someone would hit a homer. He was just searching for how to use those pitches that he has.”
Molitor compared Pressly to a bullpen equivalent of Kyle Gibson: “Gibby has kind of had some really good runs as a starter, and then not so good. I think of him and Press — different roles, obviously — but having the same issues of trying to find that level of consistency.”
Gibson also went back to Rochester last summer, returned in early August, had three so-so starts and then found a fine level of consistency: 6-0 in his last eight starts, a 2.92 ERA and much importance in the Twins’ run to the AL wild-card game.
Perhaps Pressly found out about the same time how to use those pitches he has: a 98-mph fastball and a big curve.
For Pressly, it’s clear enough: Get that last one over and he’ll get ’em out.