Saturday night, Kyle Zimmer made his first start for Double A Northwest Arkansas.
It’s safe to say it went well.
His night ended after six innings and 86 pitches, of which 56 were strikes. He gave up three hits – a bloop to center, a grounder through the hole between third and short, and a double to left-center which wasn’t played very well. He walked one batter and hit another. In his first two innings, Zimmer struck out five and finished with seven on the day.
What I appreciate more, though, is that he induced seven ground ball outs as opposed to two fly ball outs. For Zimmer to find success in Double A, he’ll have to avoid fly balls whenever possible in a hitting-friendly league and home park. Including his last four starts – when Zimmer started to get on a roll – he’s induced 33 ground ball outs and 22 fly outs. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s allowed just four line drives in the last five starts.
Considering his start to the year, his latest run is a complete turnaround. On June 24, after his latest start, Zimmer had a 5.92 ERA. In his last five starts, it’s a 1.44 ERA. He’s struck out a lot of batters through it all, but he’s been nearly unhittable recently. He’d made a slight adjustment from the stretch, but he’s also been using more of his repertoire. On Saturday, he was mixing in his slider, changeup, and his best pitch – the curve – while working his fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s. Moreover, he was a bit unlucky in Wilmington as he was getting grounders 53% of the time, but allowing a .323 BABIP. His FIP in High A was significantly better than his ERA (3.37 vs. 4.82). In that context, a turnaround was almost inevitable if most everything stayed the same.
But he’s enjoying more than a mere turnaround right now. He’s in the midst of a breakout.
In Zimmer’s last five starts, three have finished with a game score of 72 or better. Saturday’s was a 72 and just his third best in the last month. His other two scores were 68 and 62. For some perspective, the Royals entire staff has seven games with a 72 game score or better. Zimmer now has three (of course, doing so in Double A is quite different from doing so in the majors). What that shows me is that he’s capable of completely overwhelming a lineup on any given night, which is what he needs to be showing to become the front-line starter the Royals expected when they selected him fifth overall in 2012.