SAN DIEGO — After toiling in the minor leagues for five years, Cole Kimball was elated when his first-ever call to the big leagues came late Friday night, May 13. It was so exciting for the 25-year-old that he didn’t say anything about the slight shoulder soreness that had hampered him when getting loose since a cold Syracuse day in April.
But Thursday night, after throwing 11 pitches and only four for strikes (including only one of his first five), Kimball was unable to perform even the most routine of strength exercises. It was time, he said, to get things looked at. He had an MRI Friday morning in San Diego and while the results weren’t in before Friday’s game, the doctor did say his right rotator cuff was certainly enflamed. The Nationals placed him on the 15-day disabled list and purchased the contract of right-hander Ryan Mattheus from Triple-A Syracuse.
It was a disheartening blow to the 25-year-old right-hander, who was a 12th-round draft pick in 2006 and one of the most powerful pitchers in the Nationals organization, to hit the disabled list before he even reached the one month anniversary of his promotion to the major leagues.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “I was just kind of crushed yesterday when I (trainer Lee Kuntz) was trying to test me and I just couldn’t even push. I tried to to do some of the arm tests and there really wasn’t any strength left in it at all. I couldn’t push out I couldn’t push up. Pretty disappointed. I’ll do everything I have to do to get back.”
Still, Kimball, who has been taking Excedrin all season to help dull the pain, made no excuses. While he’s sure that the soreness was holding him to the 92-94 mph range with his fastball instead of his usual 95-98, it had no bearing on his control — or lack of control — in walking 11 batters in 14 innings.
“I’ve been battling through it since April,” he said. “Once I got up here I wasn’t going to go, ‘Oh now my arm hurts.’ I just kept pitching. Yesterday it wasn’t like I pitched like I pitched because my arm hurt. After the game I tried to do my arm exercises and my arm wasn’t cooperating.
“I’m not trying to make excuses for why I pitched poorly yesterday, that’s not it at all. I should still be able to throw strikes. There’s no excuse for me to throw four balls. I’m not going to blame command on being sore because I’ve been sore the whole season. It’s not an excuse. Yesterday, I’d been sore the previous 20 games. I did what I did to get here, I did what I did when I was here. Yesterday had zero to do with my injury.”
It’s a fine line, Kimball admitted, between deciding what you can pitch through and what should necessitate a little more concern. He felt he’d reached the breaking point Thursday night.
The plan right now is for Kimball to rest his shoulder and take prescribed anti-inlammatory medicine before beginning a plan to strengthen the area and get back into pitching shape. In the meantime, the Nationals will get to know Mattheus, a right-hander who’ll be making his major league debut whenever he gets in his first game.
Mattheus was doing so well at Triple-A that there wasn’t much discussion about who to bring up. While Collin Balester is always an option for the Nationals, they felt that Mattheus had earned the opportunity.
“I don’t know a lot about Ryan,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “The reports are great. He was in extended spring, went to Double-A, Triple-A and pitched outstanding. I’m just really getting good reports on the velocity, location of his pitches. Hopefully he can come here and help us.”
Mattheus was once a well-thought of prospect in the Rockies’ system but he’s been working his way back into form since 2009 Tommy John surgery. In 10 innings with Triple-A Syracuse this season, he’s yet to allow a run and only given up three hits.
Having to make the cross-country flight to join the team, Mattheus was not yet at Petco Park during reporter availability in the clubhouse. He was expected to arrive just before gametime.