Collins eyes Rox 'pen role after 2 TJ surgeries

February 24th, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- ’ first driver’s license listed him at 5-foot-2, 138 pounds. The back of his baseball card in 2020, which he hopes will show him wearing a Rockies uniform, will list him at 5-foot-7, 166 pounds. The bio on the back of the card will include winning a World Series championship with the '15 Royals and a comeback from back-to-back Tommy John surgeries in '15 and '16.

Collins, a non-roster invitee to Rockies camp who registered a 3.12 ERA in nine appearances for the Cubs last season, is part of a collection of relievers that Colorado has quietly accumulated over the past year. The hope is the depth will help improve the club's 5.14 ERA in relief from last season.

Whether the 30-year-old wins an Opening Day job or is part of the organizational depth entering the regular season, he already has quite a story.

Current Giants executive and then-Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was scouting a 6-foot-7 pitcher at a 2007 American Legion game when he saw someone a foot shorter, out of Worcester Technical High School (Mass.), who was hoping to make a community college team. That someone was Collins, and he arrived in the Majors four years later. But he can’t bottle the formula.

“We have a lot of guys that call the gym, or parents that call the gym, and say, ‘I want my son to be on Tim’s program,’” said Collins, who works out during the offseason at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Mass. “That’s not how it works. You can send them through years and years and years of my programming, and it’s not gong to benefit them like it benefitted me.

“I would be kidding if I didn’t tell you it was a lot of luck. Then I let my athletic ability and my ability to outwork everybody take control.”

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Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster was the Royals' bullpen coach from 2010-12, working to nurture young relievers -- literally. Like, there was a “timeout chair" for relievers who acted up.

“[2011] was my rookie year, so we had a lot of young guys down there who sort of needed to be babysat,” said Collins, who pitched a perfect seventh inning in his Cactus League debut for the Rockies on Monday against the Indians. “Steve would sometimes have to get down and catch some of us, and we’d put eye black inside his catcher’s mask. He’d have a big grin on his face.”

But he loved Foster’s approach, which was gentle but high in accountability and low in sugarcoating.

“He really invests in his guys,” Collins said. “I know at the end of the day if I’m pitching well and the results are there, or aside from the results, Steve is the kind of guy that would go to bat for me or anybody else.”

You don’t see many guys Collins' size in the Majors. You also don't see many who had to undergo Tommy John surgery twice.

“That’s three years-plus of a monotonous routine every single day,” Collins said. “At the end of my second one, I was telling myself I was more physically prepared than I was. Your mind starts to play tricks on you.”

Collins appeared in 38 games for the Nationals in 2018. Released by the Twins last year during Spring Training, the Cubs signed him and bounced him between the Majors and Triple-A Iowa four times. He finished the season in the Reds' organization at Triple-A Louisville.

“It was a tough year for me,” he said. “But everybody gets 72 hours to report [when sent down] and I’ve got a wife and three little kids, so I spent more time at home than I ever have during the season.

“Joe Maddon [the then-Cubs and current Angels skipper], every time I was sent down expressed how much he liked having me and how much confidence he had to put me in situations. So it was never results. I was just that guy.”

Needless to say, Collins doesn’t mind the competition he finds himself a part of this spring with the Rockies.

“Contracts aside, you’ve still got to come for a job,” he said. “Your job isn’t given.”