On Wednesday morning at McCormick Field in Asheville, N.C., 22-year-old 2011 third-round pick Matt Purke made his first start of the season for the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns. It was just the fourth professional start for the 6-foot-4 left-hander and one-time Texas Rangers first-round pick who failed to sign with Texas, went to college instead and suffered a shoulder injury, which caused his stock to drop and left him available for selection by the Nationals when the 96th pick of the 2011 Draft came around.
The Nationals gave Purke a four-year $4.15 million deal to get him into the organization. Last October, after doing all they could to avoid it, the lefty was finally forced to undergo surgery to clear up bursitis and scar tissue in his shoulder. The good news at the time was that doctors found no damage to the pitcher’s labrum or rotator cuff when they finally did get in and look at his throwing shoulder.
The night before Purke returned to the mound with the Suns, 2009 12th-round pick Nate Karns made his major league debut in the nation’s capital, two years after he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. After rehabbing the shoulder and throwing 216 1/3 minor league innings in the Nationals system, Karns found himself on schedule to throw when the Nats needed a starter, so they brought the pitcher up to fill in for injured lefty Ross Detwiler, whose oblique injury forced him to miss a start. Karns gave up five hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles, but the fact that he was on the mound in Washington, D.C., was a minor triumph for the team that drafted, rehabbed and developed the right-hander.
“It was a great day for the entire organization,” Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “You talk about a late draft, a 12th-round (pick), had shoulder surgery, was rehabbed by our rehab coordinators down in Viera, was developed by our pitching coaches down in the minor leagues and it’s a proud day when those kind of stories get to the mound at Nats Park and really throw a nice ballgame for us.”
Karns’ start against the Orioles on Tuesday night came a day after Sammy Solis made his second appearance of the year for the Nationals’ high Single-A affiliate, the Potomac Nationals. Monday night’s start was the 2010 second-round pick’s second outing of the year after he underwent Tommy John surgery in the winter of 2012. Described as a quick-to-the-majors type of prospect after he was drafted, Solis, barring any setbacks, is expected to make a few starts with the P-Nats before potentially moving up to Double-A, where he appeared headed before the injury after finishing the 2011 campaign with Potomac.
In the Nationals GM’s weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan, he also updated fans on 2012 first round pick Lucas Giolito’s recovery from Tommy John surgery. The 18-year-old right-hander suffered an elbow injury during his senior year in high school, leaving the pitcher considered a potential top-of-the-draft selection available when the Nationals and the 16th overall pick came around last June.
Giolito made one start last year for the Nats’ Gulf Coast League affiliate before he was forced to undergo the surgical procedure the Nationals knew was a possibility when they drafted him after 15 other teams passed on the high-potential talent.
Giolito, like Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Solis and others before him is now working his way back on a throwing program that has him scheduled to make a few appearances somewhere in the organization later this summer.
The Nationals also announced recently that former Yankees prospect and two-time Tommy John surgery patient Christian Garcia, who suffered an injury to his forearm this spring, was scheduled to report to Double-A Harrisburg some time next week to begin working his way back to the majors after making his big league debut with Washington last September. Garcia, Rizzo said after calling the pitcher up to the majors late last year, was another, “scouting and player development success story,” who was rehabbed and further developed after he signed with the Nationals organization the summer of 2011.
What do all the pitchers mentioned above have in common, other than the fact that they’re pitchers who have recovered from injuries and rehabbed within the organization? They were the top five pitchers in the organization according to Baseball America before this season.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.