The Washington Nationals came in to camp with several lefties in hopes of finding a second left-handed specialist – a LOOGY, if you will – to complete what looked to be a stacked bullpen for the team.
Now, there’s just one: Fernando Abad.
It wasn’t exactly the intention for the team for the competition to end up this way. The team had signed Bill Bray as the primary piece for the race, and gave the former Cincinnati Reds setup man the inside track going into the spring schedule based on past success, leaving Abad and fellow newcomer Will Ohman as the underdogs.
Well, after a combined six outings between the three, the team had seen enough – for now.
The Nationals assigned Bray, Ohman, as well as Brandon Mann (who’d been brought in to fill the numbers) to minor league camp on Sunday, leaving Abad as the only lefty reliever remaining in camp outside of Zach Duke.
Though the sample size to determine this decision was quite small, it was Abad, the unheralded former Houston Astros reliever, who pitched better than his competition to be the last man standing thus far.
Will Ohman pitched just one outing, but he give up two hits and two walks in it, and the Nats declined to give him a second shot. The 29-year old Bray, who has a career .213 BAA over 87.2 innings against southpaws, did not show a return to form coming off his groin strain last season. He allowed runs in each of his two outings, and gave up five hits and a walk over his two innings overall.
Then there was Abad, who did not allow a hit until his third outing, and has been nearly flawless, allowing no runs on just a pair of walks to go along with four strikeouts in three innings pitched.
That was the impression that the Nationals wanted one of their new lefties to make, and the 27-year old swingman is now the favorite to give the team some extra presence from the left side in the upcoming season.
Washington is putting a fair bit of faith in that Abad is fully over the mix of injuries that caused him to miss 44 games over the last two years, and that he can maintain the year-to-year improvement in key areas. The lefty’s K/9, GB/FB ratio, and home run rate were all at career-bests in what was otherwise a disappointing 2012 season, and his new role may help him translate that into results in the counting numbers.
While Abad appears to be a lock for a job, it’s by no means a sure thing yet. The team can still bring back Bray or Ohman should they pitch well in minor league camp, and Abad is going to have to stretch his first impression out over the next month to truly secure his place.