Abad says not playing winter ball led to '15 regression

Veteran enters camp hoping to land lefty reliever roster spot

February 26th, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a breakout season that saw him post a 1.57 ERA in 57 1/3 innings with the A's in 2014, lefty reliever Fernando Abad struggled last year. He saw his walk rate and home run rate rise, leading to a 4.15 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.

Abad was designated for assignment by the A's after the season and ultimately signed a Minor League deal on Dec. 17 with the Twins, who had made it clear all offseason that they were looking for left-handed relief help. The Twins are hopeful Abad can bounce back to form, as he has a good shot to make the club with a strong showing in spring, and Abad believes he knows why he struggled in 2015.

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"I feel last year I was tired because I didn't go to the Dominican after the '14 season, because I stayed back here to try and get a green card and worked out by myself in Miami," Abad said. "It was different than training with somebody else. And I didn't play winter ball. But this year, I feel good, and I'm in shape, and my arm feels good."

Abad, 30, made sure to pitch in his native Dominican Republic this winter, and he said his arm feels much stronger heading into camp as a result. His velocity will be worth monitoring, as his fastball averaged 92 mph in 2014 but dropped to 91 mph last year, per FanGraphs.com.

Abad said he also expects to change his pitch selection in 2016, as he threw a cutter nearly 20 percent of the time last year -- a pitch he had only thrown a handful of times prior to 2015. Abad said he's going back to his former mix of a fastball, changeup and curveball to see if that helps him get back on track.

Abad was due for a bit of regression in 2015, considering opposing batters hit just .211 on balls in play against him in '14, but he feels it was his command that let him down. Abad saw his walk rate jump up from 2.35 batters per nine innings to 3.59, and his home run rate soared from 0.63 per nine to 2.08. Abad saw his first-pitch strike percentage drop from 61.6 percent to 52.7 percent, forcing him to pitch behind in the count too often. Abad had a 6.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio after an 0-1 count, but a 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio after a 1-0 count, per baseball-reference.com.

"I didn't have any location," Abad said. "I'd miss the zone, and the ball would run right off the plate. It was tough. I'd throw the pitch I'd want, and it would just go [off the plate]."

So while the Twins may not expect Abad to replicate his 1.57 ERA from two years ago, he's firmly in the mix among lefty relievers in camp, with Taylor Rogers also expected to get a strong look. Twins starter Tommy Milone was Abad's teammate with Oakland in 2014 and can see why Minnesota has such high hopes for him.

"If he could be half as good as that, I think we'd be in really good shape," Milone said. "Because he was lights-out. It was to the point where when he came in there was no doubt he'd get out of the situation."