Cole Kimball threw another bullpen session Sunday, the first day of full team workouts, and his continued progress again impressed Nationals Manager Davey Johnson. Kimball, an imposing presence on the mound with his size and violent delivery, has thrown the ball so well during spring training that Johnson believes the right-hander has fully recovered from the right rotator cuff he tore in 2011.
Since his July 2011 surgery, Kimball has faced a long and arduous recovery. After reaching the majors that season, Kimball had a goal of returning in 2012 but got only as high as Class AA Harrisburg in his rehab. There were several starts and stops last season that are typical for a rotator cuff recovery, which are notoriously difficult.
“It’s a tribute to him as hard as he worked because I think he’s back,” Johnson said. “He’s certainly got a good future. We’ll be keeping a close eye on him. … Every day, whether it’s flat ground or on the mound, he’s showing a lot of arm strength and good command of it. He had a severe injury. 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.”
The best path for Kimball, Johnson said, was for him to get regular work as a closer in the minor leagues. With an already crowded bullpen, stashing Kimball in the minors and allowing him a chance to build up innings there is an easy and stress-free path for his continued return.
“Having him where he’s at just adds more depth, and I wasn’t figuring he was going to be anywhere near the mix,” Johnson said.
>> Much like they have with pitcher Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals have altered Roger Bernadina’s schedule so that he can get in sufficient workouts with the team before he leaves to represent his country in the World Baseball Classic.
Bernadina, who leaves Nationals spring training Feb. 24 to join the Netherlands camp in Taiwan, will play in the first three spring training games, Johnson said.
>> Even though he is averse to team-wide meetings, Johnson met with players and coaches at 9 a.m. Sunday ahead of the team’s full squad workout. He shared his contact information with players, imploring them to stay in touch with him about any issues.
“I’m here to help them, and I’m the problem-solver, not the guy next to you,” Johnson said he told the teams. “Throw it at me.”
>> A running joke of camp so far — as it was last season — is that Jayson Werth has as much sway over lineup decisions as Johnson. The Nationals’ manager finds it funny, as does Werth.
During morning workouts, Johnson said he overheard someone ask where Bryce Harper was going to bat. Johnson then heard Werth respond: “Third.” Johnson couldn’t help but chuckle again.
“When I heard that, knowing what I know about Jayson Werth, that he’s trying to clear up the second spot and the fifth spot for himself,” Johnson said. “So that depending on where he comes along [with his left wrist], he’ll have the ability to go where he wants to go.”
>> Wilson Ramos blocked balls in the dirt while catching a bullpen session, according to Johnson. The catcher, while returning from two major knee surgeries last season, has been slow and limited in workouts and admittedly scared to dive into the ground to block balls. He apparently cleared that hurdle Sunday.
During batting practice, Ramos looked completely uninhibited by the right knee. He launched a few balls over the fence in left and left-center field.
>> Christian Garcia threw his third bullpen session of camp, and his delivery looked as smooth as ever. Johnson, a big backer of Garcia, said he was given a report that the right-hander “threw the [heck] out of the ball.”
>> Matt Skole, the Nationals’ reigning minor leaguer of the year, again looked impressive in batting practice. The left-handed power hitter hit shots into the outfield and over the right field fence. One ball hit the training complex a few dozen feet beyond the fence on the second bounce.
Skole, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound 23-year-old, trained with Mark DeRosa in the offseason again. Skole is an Atlanta native and DeRosa lives there in the winter.