VIERA, Fla. — The relief on Matt Purke’s face is evident. He said he felt it as soon as he was out of surgery last summer, surgery that removed some of the bursa sacs in his left shoulder and cleaned it up.
That relief grew with every step of his rehab process, from last August until he arrived at his second major league spring training earlier this month. Now Purke, an inquisitive and cerebral person by nature, has been walking around the clubhouse with a smile.
When teammates ask him how he’s feeling, he almost instinctually lets out a happy sigh expressing just how good the answer is.
Purke, a power lefty with tantalizing potential, is not fully ready to be let loose. He is on an interval schedule for his bullpens and the Nationals are taking things slow with him.
He will most likely have to stay in extended spring training for a bit, in part to keep his arm strength build up steady and in part to make sure he can pitch through the end of the season without piling up too many innings.
But all of that is OK with him because of the way he feels when he’s pitching. Because of the movement on his pitches he hasn’t seen since he was a freshman at Texas Christian University.
“It’s different,” he said Thursday morning. “To be able to play, to be able to perform and not feel like you’ve got an anchor in your shoulder, it’s different.”
Purke always used to see natural movement on his pitches. It’s part of what made the left-hander a first-round selection out of high school and part of what made him one of the nation’s top talents as a freshman in college. Then shoulder bursitis struck in his sophomore year and Purke watched his pitches flatten out and straighten out.
Until now, he hadn’t seen it since. And when he plays long toss, he’s enjoying watching the way the ball moves.
Chances are, Purke’s stay in major league camp won’t be all that long. He knows he’s destined for the minor league side as he continues his rehab process but he’s looking forward to the time when he can move through the minor league system with ease. To the time when his attendance at major league camp will be more than an invitation.
For now, he’s just relieved to be thinking of that, and not the pain in his shoulder.