Johnson on Cole Kimball: “I think he’s back”

VIERA, Fla. - Nationals fans got a glimpse of Cole Kimball’s immense ability in the early part of the 2011 season. Unfortunately, it was just a brief glimpse.

Kimball posted a 1.93 ERA over 12 appearances in 2011, holding hitters to a .174 batting average and not looking at all like an intimidated 25-year-old rookie. A torn rotator cuff derailed Kimball’s career, however, costing him the rest of the 2011 campaign and limiting him to just six minor league rehab appearances last season.

After a stint in the Arizona Fall League and a healthy offseason, Kimball is now back feeling like himself again. The hard-throwing righty took one of the bullpen mounds out by the minor league fields this morning, pumping fastballs through a stiff breeze as pitching coach Steve McCatty and others chirped in approval.

Kimball says his shoulder feel strong (“It feels great. Feels like I never had the surgery,” he says), and he thinks his fastball has every bit of the velocity it did before the injury. Manager Davey Johnson, McCatty and others have been nothing but impressed with what they’ve seen of Kimball thus far.

“I think it’s a tribute to him and as hard as he worked, because I think he’s back,” Johnson said. “He’s certainly got a good future, so I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. He’s been throwing exceptionally well.

“What I’m seeing is that he’s throwing all his pitches and every day, whether it’s flat ground or off a mound, he’s showing a lot of arm strength and pretty good command of it. He had a severe injury, and 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 that he’s come this far. So that’s a tribute to his work ethic and his drive. But he’s certainly been nothing but serious. It’s good to have him back.”

Unfortunately for Kimball, the Nationals’ bullpen is much stronger and deeper now than it was in 2011. Given the other arms the Nats have in their ‘pen and their plans for Kimball for the future, Johnson says that he’s not considering Kimball for a major league relief job.

“I think barring any kind of injury or anything, I think the best thing would be to see him have regular work and probably be in the closing situation (at Triple-A Syracuse),” Johnson said. “Having him where he’s at just adds more depth. I wasn’t figuring he was going to be anywhere near the mix.”

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