If you’re a fan of watching a young pitcher show the world just how high his ceiling is, then Frawley Stadium was the place for you on Tuesday night. That’s where Kyle Zimmer put on his full display of pitching skill for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. The top-ranked prospect in the Kansas City Royals system coming into this season fanned a career-high 13 batters over just six innings pitched in an 8-1 win over the Frederick Keys.
Zimmer struck out all but one of the Keys’ starters, and overpowered his opponents at every step of the way. His fastball had incredible zip, sitting around 97 miles per hour according to numerous scouts. When you add to that the fact that Zimmer was alternating between hitting the extreme edge of the outside and inside corners, you can see why he was mowing the Keys down with regularity. It didn’t hurt matters that the right-hander’s curveball literally caused a pair of Frederick hitters to throw their bats at the ball, with both pieces of lumber ending up in the stands after wild swings and misses.
“It felt good,” Zimmer said in his typical understated fashion afterward. “All my pitches were working, I thought my fastball command was there, my curveball was on and allowed me to finish some guys off.”
When asked if he knew something special was going on early, Zimmer deflected the notion.
“Not necessarily,” Zimmer said. “I was just going out there with my same approach to get ahead, which I was able to do. Trying to finish guys off with two strikes was big. Parker (Morin, the Blue Rocks catcher on Tuesday) called a great game behind the plate, I was able to get some outs, and it was a ton of fun.”
According to Morin, Tuesday was the culmination of something that has been building since the All-Star break.
“He has been [in that kind of rhythm] for the last three starts,” the catcher said. “It’s been awesome the way he’s stuck to the scouting report and then executed at a really high level.”
The first half of the 2013 campaign was anything but awesome for Zimmer, who went winless in his first 12 starts of the season. He was 1-6 with a 5.97 ERA over the first 70 games of the year, but has gone 2-2 with a scant 2.77 ERA over his last four outings.
Despite his first-half struggles, Zimmer displayed flashes of brilliance. He fanned 11 in 4.2 innings on April 24 at Salem, faced just two batters over the minimum in five strong frames during an Opening Day no-decision at Myrtle Beach and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on May 4 at Lynchburg. That promise led Baseball America to name him the 28th best prospect in Minor League Baseball two days ago, despite the fact that he was just 2-8 with a 5.26 earned run average at the time.
His manager Vance Wilson said Zimmer never stopped battling during the tough times. Due to that toughness Wilson knew his pitcher would not let his poor numbers get in the way of the ultimate goal, which was to keep improving one start at a time.
“He had some issues that always seemed to bite him one inning [per outing] when he was in the stretch,” Wilson said. “Kyle has done a lot of good things this year and has dominated the league at times, but Kyle hasn’t been pitching a whole lot in his life. He was a third baseman converted, so he’s had to learn some things. But the biggest thing in my mind is the wins and losses don’t mean anything. What matters is getting him better and he’s put together some really good starts here in a row.
Zimmer’s 13 punch outs were the most by a Rocks pitcher since May 10, 2011, when Jake Odirizzi whiffed 13 Salem Red Sox. Odorizzi was one of the centerpieces in a trade for stud Big Leaguer James Shields last offseason. That’s the kind of company Zimmer has kept lately. He is showing the world that, slow start be damned, he’s exactly as good as he was advertised to be.
In fact, if Tuesday was any indication, he has a chance to be better.