2015 figures to be a monumental year in the life of A’s reliever Fernando Abad.
Less than a month ago, the Dominican left-hander got his Green Card from the U.S. Government. In June, he’s due to get braces off his teeth, braces he’s worn for most of the last seven years.
And he’s a key member of an Oakland bullpen that helped the A’s make it to the playoffs last year, one that has hopes of doing the same in 2015.
“It’s been a big year already,’’ Abad said of getting his Green Card. It meant he had to spend almost all of the off-season in the U.S. rather than going to his native Dominican Republic, but he’s more than cool with that.
His goal for the next off-season is to get his kids, 23-month-old Fernando Jr. and 3-year-old Camilla Fernanda and their mom, Bettania, all green cards.
“I want the kids to go to school here in the United States,’’ he said. “I want them to be able to grow up speaking both Spanish and English.
Abad lives the American dream. And the Dominican one. He wanted to be able to travel to and from the Dominican unencumbered by the need to get yearly work visas, so he went after his Green Card. Now he wants his kids to experience both of the cultures he knows, too.
“I want the kids to be able to come here and watch me pitch,’’ he said. “They come for visits now, but they have to go home after a while. That’s tough. And it’s hard that I couldn’t see them as much this off-season, or see all my guys back home, too, but now that I have the Green Card I can go there any time.’’
Abad is almost as elated about getting the braces off his teeth. His last checkup with his dentist said he had six months or less to go until they come off.
“At last I’ll be able to eat whatever I want,’’ he said. “Right now I can’t eat anything hard. Lots of soup, salad, rice, pasta, those things. Meat can be tough for me with the braces, so I can’t wait to get them off.’’
By the time they come off, Abad figures the A’s will be hot in the middle of another American League West pennant race.
“We lost a lot of good guys here,’’ he said. “But we’ve got a lot of good guys here. I think we will be good. I really like the look of our bullpen.’’
The A’s bullpen solidified early in 2014 when Abad came out of the gate in dominating style, throwing a four-seam fastball that can touch 97 mph, a sinker taught to him by former teammate Rafael Soriano, and a nice changeup and curve, both of which he can throw in the 75-mph range. That 20-mph difference led him to a 2-4 record and 1.57 ERA as the A’s prime left-handed weapon out of the bullpen.
“I had the one job, and that was good,’’ Abad said. “When I was with Houston (a 5.09 ERA in 2012), then wanted me to start, then they wanted me to relieve. Here, I know what they want. I can prepare myself to pitch every day. I like that. And this bullpen is really good, which makes it fun.’’
–Pitchers Chris Bassitt, Tyler Clippard and Ryan Cook all got high marks from Melvin based on their first throwing sessions of the spring Saturday.
–Melvin was in awe of 20-year-old third baseman Renato Nunez, who hit two balls over the towering scoreboard in left field in batting practice and two more off it. The manager said Nunez, who hit 29 homers for Class-A Stockton last year, “We saw him last year as a 19-year-old come up here and get a couple of at-bats and have no fear at all. When I was 19 I was hiding in the bullpen, catching bullpens and trying not to be noticed where he’s out here, definitely wanting to be noticed. It looks like he has quite a future ahead of him.’’
–Another Class-A slugger, 2012 No. 1 pick first baseman Matt Olson, also got some praise from the manager. “He’s got a good swing,’’ Melvin said. “He’ll predominantly pull, but we saw a guy today who was not trying to do too much. It looks like he has a lot of carry to his ball, so that the balls he hit, maybe he didn’t think they were going that far, but they just kept carrying. It has a lot to do with his extension. Impressive.’’ Olson had 37 bombs for Stockton in 2014.
–Sean Nolin’s bid to make the rotation is off to a slow start. He had sports hernia surgery over the winter and isn’t quite ready to pitch. He’ll throw on flat ground Sunday. Trainer Nick Paparesta said Nolin’s next step would be to throw from halfway up the mound.
–Right-handed pitcher Taylor Thompson (right shoulder tightness) threw off flat ground Saturday.
–Raul Alcantara, recovering from Tommy John surgery of last May, is throwing from halfway up the mound these days. Paparesta said he’s about seven weeks away from being able to throw live batting practice.