VIERA, Fla. — As Cole Kimball has made his way through the first week of workouts in Nationals’ camp, he’s done nothing out of the ordinary. No lighter sessions, no extra therapy or ice when he’s done. Kimball, now more than a year-and-a-half removed from surgery on his rotator cuff, finally feels normal.
To manager Davey Johnson, he looks better than that.
“It’s a tribute to him, as hard as he worked, because I think he’s back,” Johnson said Sunday.
It took Kimball longer than he initially expected to find himself feeling the way he does now. After all, everything else happened so fast.
He felt a little tightness in the cold in Syracuse early in the 2011 season but he pitched well despite it. Then he got called up to the major leagues for the first time in May and wasn’t about to tell everyone his shoulder hurt. But by early June he couldn’t hide it anymore. That was 22 months ago.
“It’s kind of crazy just to look back and see all the stuff that has gone on since surgery and rehab and just see all the stuff that I had to go through to get back to where I am,” Kimball said. “It was not an easy road. It was pretty long. But I’d say a year-and-a-half, as serious as it was, I consider myself extremely lucky to be feeling the way I do right now.”
The chances of Kimball making the Nationals’ 25-man roster out of camp are slim. Johnson said coming into the spring he didn’t expect Kimball to be “anywhere near the mix,” for a bullpen spot. Barring an unexpected injury, most likely the power right-hander will go to Triple-A Syracuse and get regular work. Johnson would prefer it’d be in a closing role.
But that doesn’t make the way he’s looked in camp to the Nationals’ coaches and front office executives any less impressive.
“He’s certainly got a good future so we’ll be keeping a close eye on him but he’s been throwing exceptionally well,” Johnson said. “What I’m seeing is he’s throwing all his pitches, everyday. He’s showing a lot of arm strength and pretty good command of it.
“He had a severe injury and I don’t think the doctors expected him to be where he’s at. The conversation I had with a lot of them, they’re amazed he’s come this far. That’s a tribute to his work ethic and his drive. He’s been nothing but serious. So it’s good to have him back.”
Kimball understands that the team has filled the role he might’ve occupied in other ways since he was injured. There are other players involved now. Guys like Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Christian Garcia, who’ve either established their place on the team or seemingly jumped ahead of Kimball in line.
That’s OK with him. It’s part of the way things go. He gets that.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m just going to try to fit in with all the guys I’ve been with the last two years. Nothing really changes. Nothing’s difficult. It’s great. Winning games is all I want to do. It’s all I want to be a part of. It’s awesome that the team has evolved. I just want to find a way to be a part of it.”