SURPRISE, Ariz. — Tim Collins should be, as you read this, roughly 40 miles away and getting acquainted with a new set of teammates, which validates his status as one of the games top relievers.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Collins departed Sunday from Royals camp to join the United States national team in Scottsdale for the World Baseball Classic. The invitation came from out of the blue in early January a text from former first baseman Tony Clark, who now serves as the unions director of player relations.
He told me that (USA manager) Joe Torre wanted to know if I was interested, Collins recalled. I told him yes, but that I wanted to talk to the Royals to see how they felt about it.
The Royals gave their blessing and, once they did, the impact set in.
I had just started playing catch, Collins admitted, and then I went into panic mode. I thought, `Oh, gosh. Thats when I started to speed things up. It was pretty quick as far as hearing about it, then trying to figure out if I was going to go, and then spring training.
The Royals responded by accelerating Collins spring conditioning schedule. He appeared in three of the clubs first nine games, as did bullpen mate Kelvin Herrera, who left Sunday to join the Dominican Republic.
Theyre both right where they need to be right now, pitching coach Dave Eiland said. (Aaron) Crow and (Greg) Holland didnt pitch until Friday. These two other guys would have been on the same schedule, but we got them in three games before they leave.
Collins, 23, is one of six players from the big-league camp roster participating in the tournament. The others are relievers Kelvin Herrera and Atahualpa Severino, starter Luis Mendoza and infielders Miguel Tejada and Irving Falu.
The USA roster includes Ryan Braun, R.A. Dickey, Joe Mauer and former Royals Jeremy Affeldt and Willie Bloomquist. The Americans open pool play Friday against Mexico at nearby Chase Field in Phoenix. The tournament runs through March 19.
Collins tuned up for his WBC work by striking out the side in brisk fashion Saturday in a one-inning appearance against San Francisco. All three third strikes were called.
So, yes, he's ready.
Collins got his WBC invitation after appearing in 140 games over the last two seasons while compiling a 3.49 ERA and limiting opponents to a .216 batting average. He also has 153 strikeouts in that span, including 93 last season in 69 2/3 innings.
A strikeout lefty is a nice weapon for late innings, but for all that, he remains a work in progress after overhauling his delivery a year ago under Eiland. The switch calmed Collins violent torque and paid immediate dividends.
He boosted his strikeout rate from an impressive 8.06 per nine innings to an eye-popping 12.01. More importantly, perhaps, he trimmed his walk rate from 6.45 to 4.39; while better, thats still far from acceptable.
You have to maintain him, Eiland said. There are going to be times when old habits start to creep in. Its my job to let him know when that happens and make him understand it. He has to have body awareness and a feel for things.
When hes missing pitches in a certain spot, he has to understand why and be able to correct it on the next pitch. Hes getting close, but he cant get lax. He still has to pay attention on the mound.
Thats not a knock.
Eiland said the games best pitchers he cited CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera from personal experience from his days with the Yankees can quickly recognize a mechanical flaw through feel even when they cant immediately identify the problem.
Theyll come to you and ask what you see, Eiland said. They know something isnt right (even before it hurts them). Thats what coaches are for.
That Collins quickly accepted the WBC invitation underscores his newly secure status as a fixture in the Royals bullpen a switch after he needed to pitch his way onto the club in the two previous springs.
Last year included the added stress of that mechanical overhaul.
My mind is a little more at ease," he admitted. "Ive had a full off-season to work on my mechanics by myself. I can really feel what my body is doing as opposed to somebody telling me what my body needs to be doing.
"I think Ill just need a few tweaks here and there. I can come into the clubhouse and be a little more relaxed with the guys."
Only now its a different group of guys.
An opportunity like this, he said, I didnt want to pass up. Im excited to go, but I think Ill be a little more excited when I get there.