Prior to the Rays selecting Abreu from their Triple-A club to replace injured Jason Isringhausen, the 32-year-old right-hander had posted a 3-0 mark with a 1.41 ERA and 10 saves in 10 save opportunities for the Bulls. In addition, he had 49 strikeouts in 32 innings with just 10 walks. Those kinds of numbers are bound to gain someone's attention.
Before getting too giddy, one must remember those numbers were accrued during Triple-A games. The good part for the Rays is what their people saw of Abreu while he put up those gaudy numbers.
"He's pitching great, dominant," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Has a really good slider, not just an OK one. And his fastball has plenty of velocity."
On Feb. 4, the Rays signed Abreu to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
"The thing about Winston, a couple of years ago, our guys had seen him in the Minor Leagues, so he's been on our radar for awhile," Maddon said. "And this year we were finally able to get him on board. So what he's doing hasn't surprised a lot of our people since that's what we expected."
Abreu last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2007 for the Nationals when he went 0-1 with a 5.93 ERA in 26 games; he is 0-1 with a 6.81 ERA in 33 Major League games split between the Orioles and Nationals. In addition, Abreu has 13 years of Minor League experience pitching in the Braves, Cubs, Royals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Orioles and Nationals farm systems where he has compiled a 37-36 record with a 3.68 ERA in 322 appearances. He has 929 strikeouts and just 374 walks in 776 2/3 Minor League innings.
Abreu spent the 2008 season pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League where he went 1-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 20 games.
In other words, what gives? Abreu has spent a lot of time pitching and has never really crossed the bridge to respectability.
Nevertheless, Maddon likes pitchers of Abreu's ilk.
"Sometimes relief pitchers, I kind of like when they've bumped around a little bit and get to that certain level of experience and then they get up here and it's not overwhelming," Maddon said. "And all of a sudden you find something good."
"Look at the Grant Balfours of the past," Maddon added. "Randy Choate coming up right now and doing what he's doing. It's about opportunity at the right time sometimes.
"Sometimes it's about how a guy feels internally in regard to his acceptance within a group. And then, further more, him taking advantage of that moment and finally feeling that calm that he can go out there and be himself. So we're going to do everything possible to get Winnie to come here and feel totally how he has felt in Durham and see if we can get that same kind of result out of his hand. Believe me, his slider is that good. The thing is to try and get him to feel as confident and that sense of belonging we talk about all the time. If we can establish that he'll be very successful here also."
Abreu understands the opportunity he has earned this time around.
"I come in and try to do here what I did [at Durham]," said Abreu, who said he felt overwhelmed in past Major League opportunities.
Now Abreu feels comfortable, like he did what he needed to do to get back to the Majors Leagues, where he feels he belongs.
Abreu feels like he's pitching as well as he has at any point in his career.
"I've been doing a lot of work," Abreu said. "Going early to the field. Do my thing. My goal this year after I come from Japan is to try to do the best I can for the team I'm playing for."
Maddon believes the timing might be just right for Abreu this time around.
"A lot of times a guy's successful at the Minor Leagues and sometimes he just needs the right opportunity at the right time, developmentally speaking," Maddon said. "And we just think he might be at that spot."
Abreu joins a bullpen that seems to be finding its way. The bullpen does not have a closer, but what it does have is seven "even or ahead" guys. In Maddon-speak, that means any of his relievers can be used at any point in the game depending on how they match up with the hitters. Now that said system is in place and the relievers have had a chance to get used to it, the results have been outstanding. Rays relievers did not allow a run during the recently completed homestand and they have a scoreless-innings streak of 22 1/3 innings.
Abreu won't be asked to be a bullpen savior, merely a contributing member, who will pitch when the match-ups are deemed favorable.
"Like I said, I work real hard to get back here," Abreu said. "Any way they want to use me, I'm fine."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.