For the first time in two years, Cole Kimball was back at spring training in Viera feeling completely healthy. Since his July 2011 surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, he has faced the long, up-and-down, start-and-stop road to normalcy.
Last spring, he came to camp eager to return to action in the majors. Rotator cuff injuries are brutal to overcome, an arduous journey of recovery that includes starts and stops and pain. Kimball, 27, never reached the majors last season, instead making only four rehab appearances in the minor leagues and a stint in the Arizona Fall League.
This season, however, figures to be different. Kimball, who showed promise during his first season in the majors in 2011, insists his shoulder is finally healthy.
“I’m 100 percent,” he said Tuesday after finishing workouts with fellow pitchers on the practice fields behind the training complex. “It’s like I never had surgery. It’s like nothing ever happened.”
Finally healthy, Kimball will likely be a long shot to compete for a spot in the already-crowded bullpen. He has a far smaller body of work over the past two seasons — only 33 1/3 innings across the minors and majors since 2011 — than his fellow relievers also competing for spots. He pitched in 12 games in 2011 before he admitted to Nationals trainers he had pain in his shoulder. Unless he impresses team officials and convinces them he is healthy, his future likely lies in the minor leagues next season, building up his innings and arm again.
Kimball spent his offseason at home in New Jersey working out. He said he dropped about 20 pounds since he pitched in the Arizona Fall League.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I lost weight,” he said. “I was drinking more water.”
Kimball threw a bullpen session on Monday morning, exhibiting his usual hard-throwing and violent delivery. Kimball has always been an imposing figure on the mound because of his size — he was listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds last season — but he looked a little leaner and more muscular. His fastball sizzled and popped into the bullpen catcher’s glove on Monday, and a day later he was running and playing catch in the outfield of a practice field.
“No complaints,” he said. “Everything is back to normal.”