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Ryan Pressly surprised at demotion to Astros setup role but says willing to accept it

 WBN  |    Feb 15th, 2024 2:40pm EST

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Pressly said he was surprised the Houston Astros dropped him from closer in favor of Josh Hader but has accepted an eighth-inning setup role.

Hader, a five-time All-Star left-hander who turns 30 on April 7, agreed Jan. 22 to a $95 million, five-year contract.

New manager Joe Espada said when spring training opened on Wednesday that Hader will close.

“Yeah, it was a surprise, but he makes our team better,’’ Pressly said Thursday. “He’s hands-down one of the best relievers in the game. I’m happy he’s here and happy to share the bullpen with him. It’s going to be a fun time. He seems like a great teammate.’’

Pressly had 102 saves for the Astros in the last four seasons but his 3.58 ERA was his highest since 2017 and his 27.6% strikeout rate his lowest since then.

“I’m the same pitcher, man,’’ Pressly said.

A 35-year-old right-hander, Pressly has a $14 million salary this year, and the Astros have a $14 million option for 2025 that would become guaranteed if he pitches in 45 games this year and is not on the injured list at the end of the season.

Pressly said his preparation won’t change as setup man.

‘We got a great bullpen, probably one of the best bullpens in the league,’’ Pressly said. “I get paid to get three outs whether it’s the fourth inning or the ninth inning. Whenever the phone rings and they tell me to get in there, I’ll get in there.’’

Verlander

Justin Verlander threw 20 pitches off a mound, a day after the 40-year-old three-time Cy Young Award winner wondered whether he’d be ready for the March 28 opener. Verlander had said he was two weeks behind schedule due to shoulder inflammation.

Verlander, who turns 41 on Feb. 20, was traded back to Houston by the high-spending Mets on Aug. 1 after New York faded from contention.

“It was very unique for me,’’ Verlander said. “To go through all the stuff last year with a new team, and in a blink of an eye, back with the Astros. It was a bookmark of a year for me. I’m going to look back at my year and say that was a crazy one.”

Verlander felt a difference in attention as soon as he agreed to an $86.7 million, two-year contract with the Mets in December 2022.

“When the news came out, I was in St. Barts,’’ he said. “I got a taste of how big the New York media was. Overnight, it was very different. A lot more people recognized me down there. It really hit me, a new chapter in my life. You have all this excrement and I wanted it to go the best it could possibly go. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way there, but enjoyed that little bit of time.’’

Verlander won World Series titles with Houston in 2017 and ’22. He said spring training this year felt “like you’re walking into a new high school.”

“There’s a lot of nervousness, excitement,” he said. “It is different here, knowing everybody so well, maybe you’re a little more comfortable.’’

JP France

Bidding for a possible rotation role, France also has shoulder inflammation.

France said he’s not sure whether he will be ready for the initial spring training games that start Feb. 24.

“We just want to take it slow, a little precaution, make sure everything is where it needs to be,’’ France said. “You don’t want to make a one-to-two-week thing into a two-to-three month thing.’’ France said his arm felt tired’ at the beginning of a 30-pitch bullpen session two weeks ago in his hometown Nashville, Tennessee.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB