Saying the decision would ultimately be up to manager Dusty Baker, Astros pitching coach Brent Strom spoke with confidence Saturday about his team’s options at closer this year. It appears the job is Ryan Pressly's to lose after he converted 12 of 16 save opportunities last year, when Roberto Osuna was injured and lost for the season.
“I do think we have four guys or so that could possibly do that,” Strom said. “My guess right now is Ryan Pressly, who did a great job last year, save for two games. He only had like two bad outings last year … one game in Arizona that kind of blew him up a little bit, and then again in Texas, where his velocity was way below and a guy hit a home run to tie it up. Right now, I would say he is probably the leader, having been with us.”
Pressly, an All-Star setup man in 2019, converted 11 of his final 13 save chances, with a 2.08 ERA, four walks and 25 strikeouts in that span.
“I think everybody strives to be the guy to get the last three outs of the game,” Pressly said. “It’s a different kind of adrenaline rush when you’re closing out a game. For me, honestly, I just want to get back to the World Series and win a World Series. I don’t really care who’s closing games, as long as we get back there. In the postseason, you’re going to have to get big outs either way.”
Strom also said non-roster invitee Steve Cishek, who has 132 career saves, newcomer Pedro Báez and veteran Joe Smith could also factor into the closing job.
“Even a couple of the lefties [Brooks Raley or Blake Taylor] if it works its way out,” Strom said. “I'm going to defer, basically, to Dusty when that decision will be made on a per-game basis.”
Strength in numbers
Strom and his staff have their work cut out for them this year with a Spring Training roster that includes 39 pitchers, which is substantially more than the typical collection of arms the team has in camp. With staggered workouts because of the coronavirus protocols, Astros coaches are putting in 12-hour days.
“We’re here at 7 and get home at 7, and the position players aren’t even here yet,” Baker said.
One of the reasons why the Astros have so many pitchers in camp is that there was no Minor League season last year and a shortened spring camp. The team wanted the Major League staff to get a look at a number of the young players who normally wouldn’t be in big league camp.
“I read an article about the Orioles, and they were aghast they had 37 [pitchers],” Strom said. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what adjectives they’re going to use for 39 to 40?’ We’ll get it sorted out. Having [pitching coach] Josh Miller, [Minor League pitching coach] Graham Johnson and [assistant pitching coach] William Murphy aboard with me really, really helps me out because there’s some logistics they take care of. They catch my mistakes, and we try to keep everybody in line.
“All of them are well aware, though, that my primary purpose in Spring Training is to get the Major League team ready. That’s not to neglect the young guys. You’re going to get them exposure to Dusty and the rest of the organization and see what we have. It’s going to take a village to get through this season.”
Of the 39 pitchers the Astros have in camp, 21 are on the 40-man roster, 16 are non-roster invitees and two -- Francis Martes and Kent Emanuel -- are on the restricted list.
Abreu, Scrubb draw early praise
Among the young pitchers who have caught the eye of Strom early in camp are Bryan Abreu and Andre Scrubb. Abreu, who made the ALCS roster in 2019, showed up out of shape last year and didn’t pitch well in '20 as other young pitchers passed him up, including Scrubb, who took advantage of his opportunity and posted a 1.90 ERA in 20 games in his Major League debut.
“He’s come in and kind of quieted down his delivery somewhat, even though it may not be obvious to people not familiar with him,” Strom said. “He's lost some weight, he's in great physical shape. He's worked on a slider. Andre Scrubb is very unique. He led our team in innings pitched last year out of the bullpen.”
The Astros got Scrubb in a July 2019 trade with the Dodgers for Tyler White.
“I think we got a steal, quite frankly, from the Dodgers with this young man, and he worked extremely hard,” Strom said.
Strom was high on Abreu last year and said he could be an exceptional Major League starting pitcher. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as Houston’s No. 3 prospect last year, Abreu faced 20 batters in 3 1/3 innings in 2020 and allowed 10 of them to reach via seven walks, two hit-by-pitches and one base hit.
Remembering Pedro Gomez
In a span of a year in which Baker has mourned the loss of a handful of former teammates like Don Sutton and Jay Johnstone, Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron and his former manager, Tommy Lasorda, he took some time Saturday to reflect on the life of baseball reporter Pedro Gomez, who died unexpectedly Feb. 7.
“I was completely shocked,” Baker said.
Gomez, while working for ESPN, covered Baker’s Giants closely in the mid-2000s, when Barry Bonds was chasing Aaron’s all-time home run record.
“Pedro was one of the guys that you didn’t look at him as a member of the dark side of the press,” Baker said. “You looked at him as a guy you could trust, a guy that was off work when he was off work and at work when he was at work. If you were in a bar somewhere and having a drink with him, you could have a discussion without necessarily feeling guarded.”
Baker said Gomez was going to assist his son, Darren, in writing his senior thesis on race relations in sports and coaches. Darren Baker is a senior starting second baseman on the University of California baseball team.