“It’s still a little surreal,” Collins said. “I didn’t see my name on the roster until I got here so it’s pretty awesome. It’s been a long road. It’s been over three years, last time was 2014. Finally, out of that tunnel.”
With injuries to Ryan Madson and others, Collins has pitched well for Triple-A Syracuse and now he gets his shot back in the bigs for the first time since 2014.
“They took a chance,” Collins said of the Nationals confidence in him. “Not many teams would take a chance on a guy with two Tommy John’s. Shawn Kelley is a good example, they took a chance with him. I kind of wanted to see the fruits of labor with these guys because they took the shot with me and it was a no brainer signing back here.”
Collins pitched multiple innings and in back-to-back games for the Chiefs. Manager Davey Martinez said that test of his endurance is important, but they will not go overboard with Collins and how much they use him. He went 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 17 games for Syracuse, striking out 20 over 17 1/3 innings, with nine walks.
“Yeah, he’s done that and he’s done it really well down there,” Martinez said. “I’m glad he’s up. He’s going to help us. He’s excited. We’re excited. I told him, I said ‘be ready to pitch, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, our bullpen has been pitching a lot, just be ready.”
“He’s had two Tommy John surgeries so we got to be very, very careful. Hopefully we get him up, we get him in the game. We get him up a second time and he doesn’t get in the game than we probably can’t use him. So, we got to be extremely careful how we use him to keep him around for a while and keep him healthy.”
The path was certainly filled with detours and road blocks for Collins, but he persevered and kept working, even after his first rehab did not take.
“There were a lot of times where it seemed it was going to be never ending,” Collins detailed. “For the last probably eight months have been kind of the longest eight months of my life. Not bad, just all the work I put in with the first rehab, having it fail, and then having to go through a second rehab, through ups and downs last year pitching in games. Finally, healthy coming into spring training to eventually going to Triple-A and spending a long six or seven weeks there. I had a lot of fun there, don’t get me wrong, I’m much happier being here.”
Martinez said Collins does what is necessary to keep the game moving, the bottom line in pitching: “He throws strikes, bottom line. He’s not afraid of anybody. He throws a lot of strikes.”
And with all this work in Syracuse, how does his elbow feel this late into a season?
“I feel about as normal as I ever have,” Collins said. “I have been tested a little bit down in Syracuse. I go multiple innings, back-to-back days and I’ve passed all those tests. I’m over two years removed from my second surgery. I guess you could say I’m 100 percent. My arm will never be the same as it was before surgery.
“The best way to explain is it’s a different elbow not a new one. This process has been kind of trying to figure what my new norms are. That’s kind of where I’m at right now. I feel healthy. I feel strong.”
Collins pitched in three games and five total innings in the 2014 World Series for the Royals against the Giants. He allowed only two earned runs and finished with a 3.60 ERA with six strikeouts and two walks. In his first three seasons with the Royals, his ERA never jumped above 3.63. He said his big game experience will be a major asset to the Nationals.
“Experience is huge especially on a playoff caliber team,” Collins said. “I think the biggest thing for a winning team is having guys and it helps when you get out on the field you don’t let your emotions take over and your able to just be in the moment. So, I think that helps quite a bit. I fall back on it often.”