FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lots of players come to spring training with new abilities, talents they have developed and augmented over their several months off. And so it is this spring with Danny Coulombe, who is back after missing the final four months of 2022 with a serious hip injury.
Coulombe can predict the weather.
"It's funny — weather affects my hip now," the 33-year-old lefthander said. "When a cold front is coming in, there's a little soreness where I had the surgery. I can tell what the weather will be [based on] my aches and pains."
Who knows, maybe that will come in handy. What his bones can't predict, though, is the future of his pitching career, a prospect that appeared sunny and warm a year ago.
Coulombe was a journeyman reliever for the Dodgers and A's when the Twins signed him for 2020, and a year later, he was a valuable part of the bullpen, posting a 3.67 ERA in 29 appearances, with 33 strikeouts and only seven walks.
He was even better last year, allowing only one earned run in his first 12 innings through mid-May. But his hip became painful after each outing, and he went on the injured list to let it heal. When he came back on May 27, seemingly healthy again, he lasted only 24 pitches before leaving in much worse pain.
Coulombe went back on the injured list, wondering if his career was over. Doctors discovered his hip labrum was torn, and surgery was required to repair it, and also to shave down the hip bone to keep it from happening again.
"It was hard not to worry about" whether his career was over, Coulombe said. "Especially with an injury like a hip labrum. You talk to guys who have had it, some have recovered well and some haven't. You just never know how your body will react."
He couldn't walk for three weeks, and couldn't throw for three months. He couldn't pick up his two young sons, or play catch with them — "They're both right-handed, unfortunately," Coulombe joked — during his summer away from baseball.
Coulombe watched Twins games on TV, but missed the game so much, when their Class AA team, the Wichita Wind Surge, visited Frisco, about 20 minutes from his Dallas home, he attended the games and sat in the bullpen.
"I just wanted to stay connected somehow. I thought, you know, I'll go be with the guys — I knew some of them from my rehab time," said Coulombe, who returned for Wichita's games in the Texas League championship series, too. "It helped me feel involved a little bit, because it was hard not being able to help the team."
Once his hip healed, he went to work on helping another way: by upgrading his slider. His new version has better velocity and way more movement than before, Coulombe said, because he's busy mastering a two-seam grip and a curveball-style release for it.
"I was tinkering with it last year, but this offseason I learned how to make it move [more] and what makes it move. I listened to an interview with [Braves reliever] Lucas Luetge, a guy who gets big spin on his pitches," Coulombe said. "He pulls down on the pitch at release, and his grip makes it move. I saw that and decided to try it. I'm still working on command in the zone with it, but I'm pretty excited."
So are the Twins. Coulombe has yet to allow a run in his six appearances this spring, and while his walks have risen while he wrestles with his new pitch, he has struck out 10.
Along with Jovani Moran and Caleb Thielbar, Coulombe could give the Twins an unusual number of options against lefthanders.
"He's looked really good. It's nice to see him healthy again," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He pitched really well for us when he was healthy. An injury like that, you just hope he can eventually get back to where he was. Looks like he's doing it."