Tim Collins doesn’t particularly enjoy waiting around for his name to be called out of the bullpen. Life as a reliever is tough enough, all the more so when you find yourself in a major league bullpen for the first time in four seasons as the left-hander did Monday night.
Thankfully, Collins’ name was called during the Nationals’ 10-2 victory over the Padres. He had to wait until the top of the eighth, but at least he didn’t have to wait until Tuesday night as he feared he might.
“The anticipation is what kills me the most,” he said. “So it was nice to get into the first game and get that out of the way. It’s kind of like your debut. You don’t ever want to wait. The anticipation for me is what gets me.”
Collins understandably was anticipating this one more than perhaps any of the 228 major league appearances he previously made for the Royals from 2011-14. Those appearances all came pre-Tommy John surgery No. 1, not to mention pre-Tommy John surgery No. 2.
It was an especially long road back for the 28-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in 2017 but made only 18 late-season appearances once he was healthy again. He thought a strong 2018 spring would earn him a spot on the Nats’ opening day roster, but it took a 3.63 ERA in 17 games at Triple-A Syracuse plus Ryan Madson’s pectoral strain to finally get the call.
With his team cruising in its series opener against the Padres, manager Davey Martinez decided to bring Collins in to pitch the top of the eighth, and he delivered a scoreless frame, getting Cory Spangenberg to foul out, then striking out both Travis Jankowski and Christian Villanueva around a two-out single by former Kansas City teammate Eric Hosmer.
“Running out (of the bullpen), I was pretty emotional, whether I showed it or not,” he said. “But after that first pitch, the popout, I just settled in. I knew it was just another game.”
The Nationals now will try to find a role for Collins, hoping his combination of big-game experience and the fact he throws with his left hand gives Martinez a viable second southpaw option along with the overworked Sammy Solís. For now, they’re just happy for him that his long road back ended in a successful moment.
“Great, great story,” Martinez said. “Here’s a guy that had two Tommy John surgeries, three years of building up, gets a chance to come back in the big leagues. He went out there, and I was really pumped up for him. ... I’m going to go tell him: ‘Hey, I’m really proud of you, man.’ Just a testament to what kind of guy he is.”