For Cole Kimball, the news he got from an arthrogram done on his injured right shoulder revealed exactly what he’d feared worst: a tear in the rotator cuff.
Kimball will undergo season-ending rotator cuff surgery sometime during the All-Star break thus bringing his brief first year in the major leagues to a disheartening end. The 25-year-old will be operated on by Dr. David Altchek in New York city.
“He just got here,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He pitched well up here. It’s an unfortunate injury. Hopefully he’ll be all right. i saw him in the training room (Friday) and he didn’t have that happy-go-lucky look on his face. I didn’t want him to tell me how bad it was… nobody wants to undergo surgery.”
Kimball was called up to the major leagues on May 14 and made his major league debut later that day. He pitched in 12 games for the Nationals, working to a 1.93 ERA, walked 11 and struck out 11, before finally alerting the Nationals to pain in his right shoulder that had been percolating since April when he was with Triple-A. It was something he could pitch through, initially, he said, but he was hesitant to alert the team of the soreness once he made it to the major leagues for the first time. But his velocity began dropping and he was walking more batters than usual because of his attempts to compensate for the drop in his strength.
An MRI on the shoulder taken four weeks ago revealed some inflammation and Kimball later received a cortisone shot in the area. He began a throwing program shortly thereafter but was shut down again on June 21 when pain returned to the area. He hadn’t thrown since then until this week when a slight amount of work caused him soreness and prompted a visit to Dr. Altchek on Thursday.
The MRA he received there, an advanced MRI that includes a dye injected into the shoulder for a more clear picture, revealed the tear. The recovery time for a torn rotator cuff varies, depending on what the surgeon finds as far as damage when they actually begin the operation, but they generally run between four and six months.
Kimball, who was obviously upset by this news, was not made available to reporters for comment, but one example of a reliever who underwent surgery for a torn rotator cuff and has come back to throw even harder is Tigers’ reliever Joaquin Benoit.
According to the indispensable fangraphs.com, Benoit averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball in 2007 and 91.8 on it in 2008. He had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in January of 2009 and missed all of the 2009 season but pitched very well for Tampa Bay in 2010 and signed with Detroit as a free agent this offseason. In 2010 his fastball averaged 93.9 mph and this year it’s averaged 93.5.
Kimball can throw in the 95-98 range but in his brief major league stint, he averaged 93.3 mph on his fastball.