Pressly to close in Osuna's absence

July 21st, 2020

HOUSTON -- All-Star reliever is likely to serve as the Astros’ closer when the regular season begins Friday while gets in game shape, manager Dusty Baker said Monday. Osuna has yet to face hitters during Summer Camp and it doesn’t appear as though he will be ready for Opening Day, though Baker insists Osuna is not injured.

The absence of Osuna, who led the American League in saves last year with 38 and ranked fifth among American League relievers with a 0.88 WHIP, would be a detriment to an Astros team that will have a thin bullpen to start the season. Versatile relievers (right shoulder inflammation) and (right elbow bone bruise) are likely headed to the injured list, and veteran is on the restricted list.

Pressly, an All-Star last year, had been dealing with a blister on his right hand but made the trip to Kansas City and was expected to pitch in one of the two exhibition games. He posted a 2.32 ERA in 55 games last season and was nearly unhittable in the first half (1.42 ERA in his first 44 games) before a right knee injury sidelined him and ultimately required surgery.

Without Smith, Osuna, Peacock or Pruitt, and with likely headed to the rotation, the Astros will have to turn to some pitching prospects to start the year. That list includes Cristian Javier (team’s No. 6-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline), Brandon Bielak (No. 12), and Enoli Paredes (No. 13) among others.

The 30-man roster must be set by 11 a.m. CT Thursday.

On the road again
Monday’s exhibition game gave the Astros their first chance to experience travel during the coronavirus epidemic. The team left Houston at about 11:30 a.m. CT on a charter flight that lasted about two hours and traveled directly to Kauffman Stadium before checking into the hotel. On the flight, players were required to stay in their seats and wear masks.

“The major difference was guys were yelling across the [cabin] versus going over and talking to them because you had to stay in your seat,” Baker said. “That’s going to be really challenging, especially for the real social guys, to stay in your seat. Guys like to play cards on long trips to Seattle or something like that.

“That’s going to be really challenging. These guys have adapted pretty good. I’ve heard some complaining but very little. This is different. It’s a little inconvenient but it beats the alternative of us not playing at all.”

As far as not playing in front of fans, Baker has challenged his players to stay motivated.

“You have to find your own motivations,” he said. “The motivation is to win; the motivation is to play the game. It’s easier when there’s energy and electricity in the stands. I’m urging the guys to recall what the energy and the feeling was like when they were in the playoffs and World Series.”