Monday morning, Cole Kimball stood in the middle of the Space Coast Stadium outfield, heaving baseballs to bench coach Randy Knorr, who stood on the right field foul line. Kimball is an observer once the game begins each day, recovering from the surgery he underwent last July to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Kimball, a 26-year-old reliever who made his debut last year, plays catch every morning Monday through Saturday, with Sundays off. (He’s on the Chick-fil-A rehab schedule.) The comeback from rotator cuff surgery is a slow process, one of the toughest things a pitcher can do, but so far Kimball has met every challenge.
“It doesn’t feel like I had surgery when I play catch,” Kimball said. “That’s a plus. But I know there’s a lot of long weeks ahead throwing. There’s a month of bullpens before I face hitters. That month of bullpens will be a test. It’s not a test of how good the surgery went. It’s a test of how strong your arm is, how fast your arm is recovering.”
Kimball has not pitched off a mound, but he hopes to start throwing off the rubber by the end of the first week in April. That’s when he will start the bullpens, the next test. Playing long toss, Kimball has convinced himself he will be fine, that he will be back in the majors this year.
“Right now, I feel like my arm is probably recovering at the average rate, but I feel like the lack of pain and just being able to – there’s life on my ball coming out,” Kimball said. “That’s really exciting. I’m not lollipopping it. It’s coming out really well right now. For this stage of the game, I’m really happy. I think I’m going to come back fine. At some point this year, I’ll be back up there helping the team win. That’s all that matters.”
Kimball, an intense, hard-throwing right-hander with a violent delivery, made his major league debut May 14 last season after an eye-opening spring training. He then pitched the next two nights, making it the first time in his career he had thrown three consecutive games. Over 14 innings, he allowed three earned runs.
On June 9, he walked off the mound and finally admitted to trainers he had pitched with pain in his shoulder since the start his Class AAA Syracuse season. He could not even push against a trainer’s hand with any resistance. He went on the disabled list the next day.
Not long after, doctors diagnosed a torn rotator cuff. Kimball’s timetable for a return could put him back into games around the all-star break, just before his 27th birthday on Aug. 1. Until then, he’ll remain in Viera rehabbing.
“It’s not something I ever want to do again or I wish upon anybody,” Kimball said. “I don’t like being on the sidelines. You like to be able to affect the outcome of the game. You learn from it. It’s something I might be able to help somebody else out with down the road – the mental part.”