Matt Purke hasn't pitched in a competitive baseball game since June 4, when he tossed five innings for TCU against Dallas Baptist.
In the two-plus months that have since passed, there has been plenty of question about the status of Purke's left shoulder and whether it would prevent the Nationals from signing their third-round draft pick and putting him back on a mound.
There was never a doubt in Purke's mind, though. Confident all along his shoulder was fine, the left-hander spent the summer throwing near his home in Houston, keeping his arm in shape so he'd be ready to go the moment he signed his professional contract.
"Right now, I'm ready for about two or three innings of work," he insisted today upon his introduction at Nationals Park.
Apparently, there was nothing to worry about all along.
Any concerns the Nationals had, though, were eased earlier this summer when Purke consented to undergoing an enhanced MRI. Doctors injected a dye in his shoulder to help determine whether there was any structural damage. Turns out there wasn't, only a mild case of bursitis.
"The only thing I could do was lay it out there and say: 'Do what you want to do. Do the test, look at it, get your own assessment of it and then we can talk,'" Purke said. "I knew that I was healthy and I was fit again. I just had to prove it."
The Nationals won't let Purke go pitch two or three innings immediately. He'll first report (along with their other recently signed draft picks) to Viera, Fla., where he'll throw in front of minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams. Depending on how things go there, he could make a couple of brief minor-league appearances before the end of the season.
"I've seen him pitch recently," said general manager Mike Rizzo, who visited him in Houston earlier this month. "He's well on his way to pitching in a game. So when we make that assessment, we'll put a plan together to get him on the mound."
Purke almost certainly will pitch in the Florida instructional league next month, and he could move from there to the Arizona Fall League (which is normally reserved for top Class AA and AAA talent). Make no mistake, though: The Nationals believe the 6-foot-4 lefty is close to big-league ready.
Why else would they have rewarded the 21-year-old with a major-league contract, four guaranteed years worth about $4 million?
That's still less money than Purke might have commanded had he gone back to TCU for his junior season and potentially made himself one of the top three picks in the 2012 draft. Tempting as that scenario was, he couldn't resist signing now, especially after visiting Nationals Park in July.
Purke likened it to his recruiting visit to TCU while still in high school.
"When I got to TCU, I kinda got the sense that: This is home. This is where I could call home and I can fit in with these people and be a part of this group," he said. "Throughout the days I was here before the All-Star break, I got the same, similar feeling, when I was able to talk to the owners and be around the stadium and see the fans and stuff. And I said: 'I know this feeling.' It was a good one, and that's why I felt that way."