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Kirby takes big step with exhibition start

Brewers prospect coming back from Tommy John surgery
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- For the first time since Aug. 19, 2015 -- before Tommy John surgery turned the best year of his baseball life into the most difficult -- Brewers pitching prospect Nathan Kirby stood on a mound Monday and stared down a hitter wearing a different uniform.

Kirby, the former supplemental first-round Draft pick who ranks 27th on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top Brewers prospects, started an exhibition game against the Korean Baseball Organization's LG Twins. Kirby pitched a clean inning.

PHOENIX -- For the first time since Aug. 19, 2015 -- before Tommy John surgery turned the best year of his baseball life into the most difficult -- Brewers pitching prospect Nathan Kirby stood on a mound Monday and stared down a hitter wearing a different uniform.

Kirby, the former supplemental first-round Draft pick who ranks 27th on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top Brewers prospects, started an exhibition game against the Korean Baseball Organization's LG Twins. Kirby pitched a clean inning.

"I'm one of the guys," he said earlier in camp.

That he is "one of the guys" again is in itself a significant victory for Kirby, who was just getting started in his professional career when injury struck.

The Brewers drafted Kirby 40th overall in 2015 and watched as he finished his amateur career by helping the University of Virginia win its first College World Series. Kirby had missed nine weeks in the run-up to that tournament with a lat injury, but hurried back in time to pitch twice for the Cavaliers, including the final two innings of the clincher.

Kirby says he has no regrets -- "Absolutely not," he said -- about what came next.

He reportedly had an agreement with the Brewers for an above-slot signing bonus, but that deal was delayed over an injury concern neither side has publicly disclosed. Kirby signed for less ($1.25 million) in July and reported to Class A Wisconsin, where he pitched five times before being shut down.

On Sept. 1, 2015, Kirby underwent Tommy John surgery.

"If you do everything the strength coaches tell you to do, and listen to everyone who has been through it, you're going to be fine," Kirby said. "But you go home every day and you think about the future. That's something that can be hard. We all go through that."

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Nathan Kirby's first game since TJ surgery is today against these guys, the Korean Baseball Organization's LG Twins. pic.twitter.com/ujgykIefAU

He had a partner in the process. Another top Brewers pitching prospect, right-hander Taylor Williams, had undergone the same surgery three weeks earlier.

The two began sharing an apartment in Phoenix late last summer and are still living together this spring.

"It was so nice to have someone going through the same thing as you at the same time," said Williams, who was added to Milwaukee's 40-man roster in the fall. "If he had a good day and I had a bad day, he could say to me, 'You're going to be fine. You have to push through this.' I can't imagine what it would have been like without him there."

Said Kirby: "We've been through the grinder of last year. ... Tommy John, it's more long than it is hard. A lot of patience is involved. It was good to go through it with him and kind of have a partner."

Williams, who pushed ahead of Kirby in the rehab process last fall when Kirby was slowed by another lat strain, is not expected to pitch for the Brewers in the Cactus League, but he has been throwing live batting practice.

As soon as Sunday, Williams will be reassigned to Minor League camp, where he will reunite with Kirby.

"I think he was up to 96 [mph] in college, and I would guess that he is going to throw every bit of that coming back from it," Williams said. "I think the biggest thing he has going for him is mindset. Even though he hasn't thrown a lot of innings in pro ball, he's pitched in big games and big situations. He has that confidence about him."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Milwaukee Brewers, Nathan Kirby