Hard-throwing relievers with violent deliveries — and Cole Kimball is one of those — tend not to last long. For that species of pitcher, pitches are a non-renewable resource. Now, Kimball possesses the physical stature to absorb a heavy workload – “the human wall,” reliever Sean Burnett called him. But when you watch him exert maximum effort into every pitch, the word “longevity” is not the first that comes to mind.

That, along with his sheer ability, would be part of the argument for Kimball, 25, starting the season in the major leagues. One theory about max-effort pitchers like Kimball is that a team should squeeze the best out of him while it can. If he spends another few months or a full season in the minors, would he just be wasting precious bullets?

He has at times looked dominant (and constantly looked ferocious) during his eight innings this during which he’s allowed one earned run and struck out eight. Yesterday, Kimball struck out three in two innings, but he also walked two batters. Earlier this spring, he wheeled away the L-screen every other pitched used for protection during live batting practice.

There is also an argument against starting Kimball in the majors. He has never pitched above Class AA, and his performance, while impressive, suggests he could use more time in the minors working on his command. Kimball has been a strikeout pitcher, punching out 11.6 batters per nine innings last year, but he also walked 4.5 per nine.

And then there is the reality of the situation. The Nationals already have a crowded bullpen. Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Doug Slaten established themselves as key pieces last season. (Storen and Slaten do have options. It would be a big surprise if either starts the year in the minors, but under certain scenarios, it could at least cross the team’s mind.) Todd Coffey was an offseason acquisition. Henry Rodriguez is out of options. The Nationals would also need a long reliever, probably either Brian Broderick or Chad Gaudin. There seemingly won’t be room for even Collin Balester, who had a month’s worth of success in the majors last season.

So all signs point to Kimball starting the season in the minor leagues. But his ability – and his style – should bring him to the majors at some point soon.


Rick Ankiel joined the Nationals in part because of the comfort of his connections with Jim Riggleman and Rick Eckstein.