Thirteen months after turning pro, Kyle Zimmer reached the Double-A level.
"It is a little weird when you really think about where I was a year ago," he said. "I've been making adjustments and my mechanics are feeling good."
The results are good, too.
The Royals' top pitching prospect struck out seven over six shutout innings to get the win in his Texas League debut Saturday night as Northwest Arkansas defeated visiting Springfield, 3-1.
"I think it went well," Zimmer said after allowing three hits and a walk. "[Naturals catcher] Manny [Pina] called a great game. I tried to have the same mind-set and just attack guys, try to get ahead in the count and execute pitches."
Kansas City grabbed Zimmer out of the University of San Franicsco with the fifth overall pick last year. After losing his first six decisions for Class A Advanced Wilmington this year, he went 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA and 56 strikeouts in his last six starts to earn a promotion.
The 21-year-old right-hander carried that momentum to the next level, working around a walk and fanning two in the first inning before striking out the side in the second.
"I was trying to pitch to contact," Zimmer said, "but once I got two strikes, I was focused on making quality two-strike pitches."
In the fourth, he gave up a leadoff double to Ruben Gotay after battling to a full count.
"I was trying to make a quality pitch down in the zone," Zimmer explained. "I thought it was down and out well enough, but he put a good swing on it. After that, I tried to settle in and work my way out of the inning."
He got Chris Swauger to fly out but hit Xavier Scruggs.
"It was a 2-1 count to a power guy. We called a fastball inside and I was trying to get in there. I was not going to miss over the plate," Zimmer said. "Obviously, I wasn't trying to hit him, but with one out and first base open, no harm done."
Cody Stanley reached on an error by second baseman Angel Franco to load the bases, but Zimmer got Jake Lemmerman to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
"There was a little miscue there," Zimmer said, "but [Franco] made a great play to turn the double play on the next guy. That got me fired up. It was just some great defense behind me. It was a good team win.""
The Naturals turned another double play in the fifth after Adam Melker hit a leadoff single, and Zimmer recorded a pair of groundouts and a strikeout to end his night with a 1-2-3 inning.
"I was able to use the changeup well there in the last inning, so I got some ground balls," he said. "It was a fun outing, especially for my first time here."
Zimmer was staked to a quick lead as Brian Fletcher delivered a two-run double before Cardinals starter Seth Blair was able to record an out. Rey Navarro led off the bottom of the second with his ninth homer to give Northwest Arkansas a 3-0 lead.
Blair, St. Louis' ninth-ranked prospect struck out eight over seven innings but fell to 3-7 after allowing three runs on four hits and a walk.