Since Kyle Zimmer missed most of the 2014 season due to injury, it's easy to have muted expectations when it comes to the first-rounder's time in the Arizona Fall League.
He logged almost as many outs in his first start of the fall as he did in the entire Minor League season, but you wouldn't have known about the rust if you caught his most recent performance.
The No. 2 Royals prospect struck out 11 batters over five innings of two-hit ball as the Peoria Javelinas and host Glendale Desert Dogs played to an 11-inning 2-2 tie on Monday evening.
"It felt good. I thought my command was good, I was getting ahead of guys," the 23-year-old California native said. "Off-speed was there, I was throwing strikes, so it felt good."
Zimmer faced just three base runners. He walked Darnell Sweeney, the first hitter of the game, but the No. 13 Dodgers prospect was thrown out trying to steal third base. Hector Gomez (Brewers) doubled to left field with two outs in the third inning and was stranded in scoring position, and Jason Esposito (Orioles) led off the fifth with a base hit to center field but was erased on an inning-ending strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play.
"It was great," Zimmer said of pitching with an early 2-0 lead, afforded to him when Kansas City's No. 4 prospect Hunter Dozier clubbed a first-inning homer to left field. "We've got a great, great group of guys here. Great hitters and a phenomenal defense, so when you know you've got that behind you, it makes it a lot easier to go out and attack those hitters."
Zimmer, who struck out nine of the final 11 batters he faced, fanned three batters in the third and fourth innings, two in the first and fifth frames and one in the second. In three seasons in the Minor Leagues, he has posted only five starts with double-digit strikeouts, topped by a 13-K gem for Class A Advanced Wilmington against Frederick on July 9, 2013.
In his AFL debut Tuesday, Zimmer allowed three runs on three hits and two walks while striking out three batters over 3 2/3 innings in a 5-4 win over Surprise.
"Just tightened up some stuff," the 6-foot-3 right-hander said about the difference from Tuesday's outing. "I thought I threw the ball really well my last outing, gave up a couple unfortunate runs, but tonight I was able to get ahead of guys a little bit better and finish them off."
Selected by the Royals fifth overall in the 2012 Draft, Zimmer has been plagued with injuries since signing with Kansas City two years ago. He underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow in 2012 and was shut down in 2013 with biceps tendinitis. This May, the Royals sidelined Zimmer again with a strained lat muscle in his back, the same injury that stopped him from pitching the first two months of the year.
"I'm out here trying to get innings in and get some work in and get back and ready to the form I was in before I got hurt," MLB.com's No. 47 prospect said. "Making some mechanical adjustments, working on getting some other pitches in. I'm throwing my changeup more, which has been nice. It's feeling good, it's fun being back out here and able to compete."
On Monday, Peoria third baseman Dozier reached base three times and Rays first baseman Patrick Leonard went 2-for-4.
Glendale first baseman Nick Ramirez (Brewers) cracked a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning. Starter Zach Davies, the No. 8 Orioles prospect, allowed two runs on three hits over three innings.