Things have gone a little haywire for Kyle Zimmer this season with men on base. With a little help from Potomac, he found an effective remedy on Saturday.
The Royals' No. 2 prospect carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and faced only two batters over the minimum in his second career complete-game shutout as Wilmington beat the Nationals, 2-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
The fifth overall pick in the 2012 Draft allowed just one baserunner and faced the minimum through five innings in his longest outing of the season. Zimmer (2-7) struck out six, walked two and allowed two singles while outdueling Nationals No. 10 prospect Robbie Ray (6-3).
MLB.com's 31st overall prospect has done plenty well in his first full pro season. He's struck out 83 and walked 30 over 71 2/3 innings with eight home runs allowed while flashing the stuff that drove him up draft boards while at the University of San Francisco.
Zimmer's pitfall has been his work with men on base. After Saturday, opponents are hitting .324 against him with men aboard, compared to .205 with the bases empty. He's also averaging 5.13 walks per nine innings with men on against 2.98 per nine with the bases empty. It's those struggles that have sent his ERA up to 5.40 even after his sterling Saturday showing.
"There have definitely been situations where I've been trying to be too perfect," Zimmer said. "I'll miss a little bit and leave one ball up and it'll turn into a three-run inning. That would cause the box score to look pretty rough."
The 21-year-old right-hander avoided those three-run innings by keeping the basebaths clear for most of Saturday's start. When the P-Nats did scratch their way to first, they mostly found ways to get themselves out.
Zimmer walked Caleb Ramsey in the first inning, then induced a fielder's choice from Michael Taylor. With Adrian Nieto at the plate, Zimmer picked Taylor off first base to complete the unconventional 1-2-3 inning.
"I knew he was a fast runner and an aggressive guy on the basepath," Zimmer said. "I saw he had a little bit of an extensive lead out of the corner of my eye and I just held the ball for a while and made a quick move over."
Zimmer retired the next 12 hitters, but Randolph Oduber and Mike Gilmartin broke up the no-hit bid by grounding back-to-back singles to open the sixth. With runners at first and second, the Nationals attempted consecutive bunts. Zimmer tossed Oduber out at third on Francisco Soriano's attempt, then retired Billy Burns on a sacrifice.
With two men in scoring position, Zimmer got groundout from Ramsey to keep the shutout intact.
The win was his second in three outings as he's gone at least six innings in three straight starts. That followed a start against Winston-Salem on June 7 in which he retired two batters and was charged with five runs. Zimmer credited the recent success to a combination of improved mechanics, a stronger mental approach and a little bit of luck.
He's made strides to improve what's in his control. Mechanically, he's worked with pitching coach Steve Luebber to not fall open too quickly and keep his body moving toward home plate.
"Just being consistent and keeping a strong front side," Zimmer said. "Sometimes I would pull off a little bit. I've been working on keeping my front side stronger and staying in line."
Zimmer has tried to pair those mechanical adjustments with a more aggressive approach, relying on his quality four-pitch mix featuring a mid-to-high 90 mph fastball with a potentially above average curveball and slider as well as an average change. All four were working Saturday.
"I think I was able to get ahead and just attack guys using all four of my pitches," he said. "I was using the off-speed well early in counts. I had good command on the fastball and was able to work in and out."
Potomac won the nightcap, 6-5, as Cole Leonida homered and drove in three runs. A.J. Cole (5-3) -- Washington's fourth-ranked prospect -- got the win after yielding three earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts over six innings.
Jake Seiner is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.