VIERA, Fla. — Matt Purke was focusing on his first bullpen of major league camp Wednesday morning when Nationals manager Davey Johnson walked up behind him and called to him in Spanish.
“Como esta su brazo?” Johnson said, knowing the left-hander out of Texas Christian University is a Texas native and figured he might speak some Spanish. Purke smiled and informed the manager that he didn’t.
“How’s your arm?” Johnson translated after a little friendly ribbing for Purke’s lack of bilingual abilities.
The good news, in any language, was the Nationals’ third-round pick’s left arm felt fine and he got through his first bullpen session well.
“He threw the ball good,” Johnson said. “He didn’t overthrow or anything today, he was nice and fluid, nice and easy, and probably a little bit behind the (Ross Detwilers) and the (Tom Gorzelannys) and the people who know what this is like down here. His thought process is probably like ‘I’ve got six weeks to get ready before I start a meaningful game?’ But i liked the way the ball came out of his hand, liked his delivery.”
Purke, who would have been a first-round pick without question had a shoulder injury not derailed his final season at TCU, is only in the Nationals’ major league camp by virtue of the big league deal he signed last August. Like first-rounder Anthony Rendon, he doesn’t expect to be heading to Washington when spring training’s over.
Still, he had to be warned to take his bullpen session slow and not try too hard to impress.
“You kind of get caught in a spot,” Purke said. “You want to put a good foot forward but you also want to realize that reality is there’s a lot of people in front of me. The best thing you can do is just put yourself in the best situation you can out there but don’t kill yourself because you can’t play if you’re on the bench.
“(Pitching coach Steve McCatty) just told me the biggest thing is to just take my time. It’s a long time throwing — longer than I’m used to throwing. He just said ‘Take your time, pace yourself, don’t try to kill yourself.’ I took it slow. Things were pretty decent today, for the first one.”
Purke said his shoulder, which underwent a case of bursitis last season, feels great. He wasn’t exceptionally pleased with his performance, but did allow that he’s got plenty of time to iron that out.
“My stuff’s a little off,” he said. “But, I mean, it’s February. I’ve got a little more time.”
Purke’s time in big league camp will most likely be short and Johnson reiterated that he plans to take things slow given the fact that he’s coming off a shoulder injury. But he also said he’d probably get the left-hander an inning in the Nationals’ March 2 exhibition game against Georgetown University, and perhaps another inning here or there, but other than that, “he’ll get stretched out when he goes down (to minor league camp).”