Cole Kimball figured he was in trouble.
In bed at his Syracuse, N.Y., apartment late Friday night, his phone rang. Randy Knorr, the Triple-A Syracuse manager, was on the other end. Kimball was needed back at Alliance Bank Stadium. Now.
“What were you saying in the bullpen?” the right-handed reliever was asked.
“I wasn’t saying anything,” Kimball said, trying to figure out what he’d done during that night’s game to draw management’s ire. “I was just sitting there.”
“Well,” came the response, “you can’t do that in D.C. tomorrow.”
Laughter followed. After the good-natured ribbing and five seasons in the minors, the 25-year-old Kimball was headed to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals.
Kimball’s locker at Nationals Park still doesn’t have a nameplate. The bullpen’s elder stateman, Todd Coffey, jokes that interview requests for Kimball need to go through him. And Kimball’s cell phone is finally returning to normal after it was flooded with congratulatory texts and phone calls after his debut Saturday.
The nerves have faded, too. Everything was fine on his first jog from the bullpen to the mound in the ninth inning Saturday. He hadn’t slept since the phone call, fueled by cup after cup of coffee.
Then he looked around. The four decks of Nationals Park and the number of fans in the stands caught his eye.
“The (jitters) didn’t go away at all,” Kimball said. “Every sign I was getting one leg was shaking as I was standing there.”
In two weekend outings, Kimball showed why the Nationals wanted him to fortify the back end of their bullpen. Ranked as the team’s No. 7 prospect by Baseball America, Kimball transitioned to relieving in 2009.
That wasn’t smooth at first, with a 6.36 earned-run average in 39 appearances for Potomac. But Kimball, with a mid-90s fastball and intimidating mound presence at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, rebounded with a 2010 season that landed him in the Arizona Fall League.
“Position players distinguish themselves and they get to the big leagues. Sometimes with pitchers it takes a little longer,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He hung in there and never gave up and fought his way through the system.”
Added general manager Mike Rizzo: “His stuff was good, his numbers were good and his attitude was ready to be brought up to the big leagues.”
On Saturday, Kimball need only four pitches to strike out Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, finishing him off with a wicked split-fingered fastball. That continued with another scoreless inning Sunday. Kimball ended that by fanning Emililo Bonifacio on a 94-mile per hour fastball.
Kimball closed for Syracuse and didn’t allow a run in 13.2 innings this season. For now, Riggleman won’t use him with the game on the line.
Kimball’s next challenge? Scrounging up enough tickets for the team’s two-game series in New York against the Mets this week. Kimball’s parents, Steve and Susan, drove to Syracuse Friday expecting to see their son pitch that weekend. Instead, they had to watch him on television.
Born in Great Meadows, N.J., Kimball expects upwards of 150 friends and family, including his parents, on hand in New York
“This is pretty wild,” Kimball said.
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