Kyle Zimmer is still trying to find his routine as a professional pitcher, and sometimes, that mission comes down to each inning and each batter. As easy as the strikeouts come for the first-round pick, he's learning that walks don't always get lost in the box score.
"My stuff felt good, all my stuff was working, my slider was above average tonight especially," Zimmer said Wednesday. "I threw a lot of pitches. Unfortunately, I couldn't go too deep into the game."
The Royals' first-round pick last year was untouchable when he was on, but dealt with walks and a high pitch count to remain winless in four starts. He struck out a career-high 11 batters over 4 2/3 innings, but Class A Advanced Wilmington couldn't hang on in Salem's 5-4 walk-off win.
"I was hoping I could finish out [the fifth], but I had those two walks. Walks will get you in trouble," Zimmer said.
The 21-year-old held the Red Sox to a run on three hits and four bases on balls, recording all but three outs via the strikeout. It was the University of San Francisco product's third start this season with at least eight strikeouts, although the right-hander remains 0-1 for the Blue Rocks.
"I'm usually in the zone more than I was tonight. A couple of the walks were grind-out at-bats, fouling pitches off," said Zimmer. "But I was also pulling off a few pitches, getting behind, tried to nibble and lost the zone."
The Royals' No. 2 prospect struggled at times in his last start April 18 and left the game after taking a line drive off his forearm. He said he was removed for precautionary reasons but feels fine now after icing it for a few days. And he appeared healthy Wednesday, facing 21 batters and raising his strikeout total to 29 in 18 2/3 innings.
"Fastball, slider and curve, working my changeup in too. I had all four pitches working," Zimmer said. "I just a threw a few too many."
He said Wednesday's strikeout effort didn't illicit too many memories of his 10-strikeout night last year with Class A Kane County.
"While I'm out there, I'm not thinking about that. I'm just trying to execute my pitches and the strikeouts are there, but I'm just trying to attack the hitters and give our team a chance to win," he said.
The No. 5 overall pick in last year's Draft struck out two in the first inning while working around a double and a walk. He whiffed the final two batters of the second to strand a runner at first and struck out the side in the third and fourth. He reached his pitch count in the fifth after issuing a two-out walk to Garin Cecchini.
"I shouldn't have walked that guy," said Zimmer, who wasn't aware of his pitch limit. "They would have let me go if the pitch count wasn't an issue."
Despite the six consecutive strikeouts, he saw his free passes begin to haunt him -- Cecchini drew a two-out walk and scored on Brandon Jacobs' double to left in the third, and after Zimmer walked Keury De La Cruz, he struck out Jose Garcia to end the frame.
De La Cruz ended up the hero with a walk-off two-run double in the ninth off Andrew Triggs as Salem (9-9) overcame a 4-2 deficit.
For Zimmer, his first full season in the Minors remains an adjustment period. He's getting acclimated to a new team, town, league, and maybe most importantly, a new catcher in Parker Morin, Kansas City's 14th-round pick last summer out of Southern Idaho.
"I've been throwing to him all season. It's great, he's a great catcher," said Zimmer. "I'm getting to know him more every outing. I'm loving the way he's calling games. He gets as much credit as I do, putting the right fingers down. It's a testament to how hard he works, so we're getting on the same page."
That familiarity should help the 6-foot-3 righty who went 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA in nine starts last year between the Class A Cougars and Kansas City's Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate.
"Since it's my first full season, it's definitely something to get used to, trying to fall into a routine," he said. "It's a long year. It's something I haven't done yet, the full grind of the season. Finding the routine and something that works for you -- I just want to stay sharp outing to outing and stay healthy."
Wilmington gave its starter a 2-0 lead after two innings on an RBI single by Cheslor Cuthbert in the first and a run-scoring single by Lane Adams in the second. Adams added an RBI double in the fourth after Jacobs doubled in a run in the top of the frame.
Daniel Hernandez and Malcolm Culver kept the game close out of the Blue Rocks' bullpen until the ninth, when Triggs was charged with three runs on two hits and a walk. Wilmington combined for 15 strikeouts.
Robby Scott (1-2) allowed a run in the ninth and picked up the win. Starter Kyle Stroup held Wilmington to three runs -- two earned -- on nine hits and a walk over five frames.