When Cole Kimball arrived from Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday morning, on a few hours' sleep and his usual jolt of adrenaline, manager Jim Riggleman said he was going to ease the 25-year-old into high-leverage situations over time. That took all of two days to change.
Kimball's first two appearances - a ninth-inning stint on Saturday when the Nationals were down a run and another ninth inning with the team up four - weren't exactly garbage time, either. But last night, with the team up a run in the seventh inning over the Pirates, Riggleman called on Kimball.
The hard-throwing right-hander gave up an inherited run, blowing the win for John Lannan on Andrew McCutchen's triple, but composed himself to get a groundout that kept McCutchen at third and a strikeout to end the inning. The game stayed tied, and the Nationals went ahead for good on Danny Espinosa's two-run homer.
Kimball likely won't pitch today - he's worked three days in a row - but the way the Nationals have used him already shows how quickly he's gained their trust. He's got a nasty split-fingered fastball and a slider to go with his high-90s heat, and if he can throw strikes, he's got a chance to be a late-inning fixture in a deep bullpen.
His arrival, though, means a couple things for other Nationals pitchers. First, Kimball got the call-up over Collin Balester, who was the first reliever called up this year and had just gotten lit up at Triple-A Syracuse the night Kimball got the call to come to Washington. The Nationals' bullpen is now stocked with power arms, and if the Nationals are going to need anything in the near future, it's a long reliever. Todd Coffey could wind up getting some of that work with Chad Gaudin on the DL, and the Nationals would have Kimball, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez to work in the seventh and eighth innings. Balester's only way in the immediate future, it would seem, is an injury or a slip-up that sends Kimball back to the minors.
And the Nationals have quickly put Kimball in high-leverage situations, while they're still not comfortable with Rodriguez there. Now, Rodriguez hasn't done much to suggest he's trustworthy there, and his 100-mph fastball will keep earning him chances in the majors, since he's out of options. But it's interesting to note that the Nationals are already more comfortable with Kimball - a former 12th-round pick and converted starter - than they are with Rodriguez, the centerpiece of the Josh Willingham trade last winter.
There's still time for Rodriguez (or outfielder Corey Brown) to provide some value in that trade, but the Nationals could also still have Willingham in left, instead of a Laynce Nix-Michael Morse platoon, with all the relievers they currently trust to pitch in big situations. They made the deal to get a package for a free agent-to-be that they deemed an injury risk, but they could have moved him this summer and used him for some lineup stability the first half of the season. It'll largely be up to Rodriguez to end second-guessing like this.