In the years since Tim Collins last pitched in the major leagues, his family grew. His team won a World Series without him. His left elbow gained one new ligament, then another when the first one failed. And Collins, now 28, spent some of the best years of a reliever’s baseball lifetime hoping for another chance, instead of building on the 3.54 ERA in 228 appearances he already accumulated.
So when he heard the Nationals were going to fly him to Washington on Monday to take Ryan Madson’s spot on their active roster, the feeling was different than the feeling he had the first time he heard he would make the Kansas City Royals’ roster as a 21-year-old in 2011.
“It was a lot better than when I got called up for the first time — or told I was going to make the team out of spring training,” Collins said. “… It was a dream come true making the team out of spring training that year, but this was more just kind of seeing everything come together after two surgeries and three years of rehabbing. That was something special I’ll never forget.”
Collins pitched well enough this spring to have a chance at the major league roster, but the Nationals chose hard-throwing left-hander Enny Romero and innings-eater Matt Grace instead. They have since designated Romero for assignment, and Grace is on the disabled list. Sammy Solis has appeared in 25 of 45 games, carrying the entire left-handed load for weeks. In Collins, the Nationals have a proven left-handed option who was pitching to a 3.63 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Class AAA Syracuse. His career numbers suggest he is nearly as effective against lefties as righties, holding the former to a .224 batting average against and the latter to a .227 mark.
But Collins is not the same pitcher he was when he accumulated those major league numbers from 2011 to 2014. In those days, his fastball sat around 93 mph and he mixed it with a change-up and curveball. His velocity still sits in the low 90s, but he admits he is not the same.
“I would say I’m a better pitcher. I was more of a thrower before the surgery,” Collins said. “I’ve learned a lot about baseball the last three years just watching from my couch, and that’s helped a lot. I’ve been able to play a lot of scenarios in my head, what I would do in that situation. It’s actually kind of a blessing in disguise.”
Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said he has to be careful with Collins, much as he is with Shawn Kelley, who also underwent two Tommy John surgeries. If Martinez warms him up and sits him down, then decides to get him up again, Collins should probably pitch in that game, Martinez said. He doesn’t want to test the lefty’s elbow beyond that. If anything, Martinez has been more cautious with Kelley than the right-hander might even want. He seems likely to use Collins carefully, too.
But the Nationals need the left-hander now as much as Collins needed them when he was out of a job two years ago. When they signed him, the Nationals signed up to wait through his rehab. They endured his frustrations with him. They offered him another deal this winter, and he signed it, “a no-brainer,” Collins said. He didn’t expect to start this season in Syracuse. He was a major league stalwart. Collins always figured that once he was healthy, he would be a major league stalwart again.
“It’s been a long six or seven weeks there [in Syracuse],” Collins said. “I had a lot of fun there, don’t get me wrong. But I’m much happier to be here.”
With Madson out with a pectoral injury, the Nationals need late-game help. Kelley allowed two runs on one hit Sunday, but his fastball velocity has jumped in big situations, and he seems likely to handle a few while Madson heals. Collins could join him in supporting Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle at the back end of the bullpen. Whatever his role, when Collins jogs on to a major league mound, it will be his first appearance since Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. Yordano Ventura started that game for his Royals. Eric Hosmer, who will be in the San Diego Padres’ lineup that opposes the Nationals on Monday night, was among Kansas City’s biggest stars. Collins got the last three outs of that game, a Royals win that pushed the series to a seventh game and Collins into a years-long wait he could never have seen coming.
“I’m finally out of that tunnel.”
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (24-21)
Trea Turner SS
Bryce Harper RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Matt Reynolds 1B
Pedro Severino C
Juan Soto LF
Wilmer Difo 2B
Michael A. Taylor CF
Gio Gonzalez P
SAN DIEGO PADRES (20-28)
Matt Szczur LF
Eric Hosmer 1B
Christian Villaneuva 3B
Jose Pirela 2B
Franmil Reyes RF
Freddy Galvis SS
A.J. Ellis C
Manuel Margot CF
Robbie Erlin P
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