SAN FRANCISCO — Fernando Abad was eating in a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio on Monday night when he got a call from Triple-A manager Tony Beasley. The first thing Beasley wanted to know was if Abad was with Maya. The left-hander told him he was not, so Beasley passed along a message.
“You’re going to the big leagues,” Beasley told him. Then he told him to call Maya, because he was going too.
Maya, who was the scheduled starter for Tuesday’s 10:30 a.m. game against the Mud Hens, did not believe Abad. He just kept saying that Beasley had told him he was starting on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
Abad, who spent parts of the last three seasons in the big leagues with the Houston Asgtros, then called his mother in the Dominican Republic and woke her up to share the good news. She booked a flight to see him in D.C. when the team returns this week.
Maya and Abad shared a flight from Toledo to Chicago, but they parted ways there and were booked on separate flights to San Francisco. They arrived only a few hours before they had to report to AT&T Park. They didn’t care.
Both were elated to be back in the major leagues.
“It’s hard when they take you off the roster and you go to a new team,” Abad said of his experience this offseason. “You have to work harder to make an impression on new people. I do what I can do to play everyday and wait for the call.”
Abad has pitched well in Triple-A. The Nationals were impressed with him in spring training and they’ve continued to be during the season, and he provides a short relief left-hander — something the bullpen had lacked this season. He said his comfort as a reliever has helped him have success this year — he has a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings at Triple-A — and it’s been easy for him because he knows his role.
With the Astros, Abad said, they moved him from a reliever to a starter and weren’t sure which they’d prefer him as, and it was hard for him. As a reliever, he said, he throws harder and feels better suited to the role.
“I did so good in the bullpen last year,” Abad said. “Like two months before the season was over they sent me to Triple-A to make me a starter and that’s hard. That’s hard for me. I tried to do it but it’s hard. I feel comfortable now. I throw (harder) when I was in the bullpen. My velocity is consistent, 93-94 mph sometimes 95. When I was starting it was 90-91, sometimes 92.”
With Ryan Mattheus out for roughly two months or so with a fractured right hand, Abad could have a chance to make his case for a long-term spot on the roster. Christian Garcia is doing well in working his way back into form in Viera, Fla., still throwing live batting practice, but for now Abad has an opportunity.
He had a 3.80 ERA as a reliever for the Astros in 2012, and he struck out 22 batters in 23 2/3 innings pitched.
“A lot of our guys are having trouble with left-handers,” Johnson said. “Abad’s a welcome addition. We’ll give him opportunities to pitch. If Abad throws like he did in the spring, he’s got a good fastball, good curveball and he’s been throwing them over, so he’ll be useful.”
For now, Maya will serve primarily as long relief insurance as Ross Detwiler’s status remains in limbo and Zach Duke and Craig Stammen in the conversation to start if he cannot. But Detwiler had another good day on Tuesday, running and playing catch in the outfield at AT&T Park.
“I feel like a normal person again,” Detwiler said.
The plan now is for him to throw again on Thursday, the team’s off-day, and be ready to throw a bullpen session on Saturday so he is lined up to start on Tuesday. But he needs to be pain free by Friday in order for that plan to come to fruition.
“I have a good feeling about Detwiler,” Johnson said. “I think he came through it pretty good today… It all depends on how he feels. By Friday he has to not feel that pull. If he doesn’t’ feel it, then he can throw a ‘pen.”
As for Mattheus, the Nationals are not pleased with his self-inflicted injury. The right-hander broke his hand punching his locker on Sunday afternoon after he surrendered five runs in an inning.
Johnson said he ran into Mattheus in the hotel lobby on Tuesday morning, before the reliever headed back to D.C. to visit with a hand specialist.
“I had a few choice words for him,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t in great spirits, I didn’t expect him to be.”
The Nationals will have more clarity on Mattheus’ timetable once he visits with the specialist. There is some question right now over whether he may need to have a pin placed in there to stabilize it, and that would lengthen his recovery time.
Because it’s his pitching hand, though, there’s already an understanding that it will take him some time to come back. Once his hand heals, he’ll then have to rebuild all of his arm strength, as if it was spring training, all over again.
The Nationals’ 40-man roster is now full with the addition of Abad.