Kyle Zimmer, the Royals’ talented but physically troubled pitching prospect, visited one of the nation’s leading shoulder specialists on Monday and could undergo a procedure to determine the source of recurring discomfort in his right arm.
A week after he was shut down due to a recurrence of tightness in his shoulder, Zimmer saw Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. His visit followed a battery of tests by Kansas City’s team doctors and yet another round of inconclusive examinations. The team sought a second opinion and flew Zimmer to see Altchek, the Mets’ team physician.
"All the MRIs he’s had done, there’s been nothing structurally wrong," assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said on Monday afternoon. "So that’s been a mystery with this. Just in talking to our doctors, it might be time just for an exploratory scope, just to see what’s in there. Just because it’s been a little bit of a mystery. Maybe that will clarify something for us. Maybe that will find something that the MRIs just didn’t show."
The Royals expect to know definitively whether Zimmer should require any surgery by Tuesday morning. Picollo stressed the most likely result was the minor scope procedure to better inspect the joint. He experienced yet another setback while pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where he was building up innings after only throwing 4 2/3 in games this season.
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On Oct. 18, one start after fanning 11 batters in five innings of work, Zimmer left a start after one inning. He reported an inability to loosen up and tightness around his shoulder. These symptoms have been chronic for Zimmer, and sidelined him for much of 2014 due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in the back of his shoulder.
The trouble for the Royals is Zimmer is a relative neophyte as a pitcher. He converted to the mound full-time as a freshman at the University of San Francisco. Two years later, he blossomed into the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft.
The Royals targeted Zimmer as a player with both vast potential and accelerated timeline. He earned an invite to big-league spring training last February at the age of 22, and the club hoped he could contribute in the majors during the summer.
But his inability to remain on the mound has become vexing. He underwent a minor elbow operation in 2012. He was shut down with biceps tendinitis the next season, which came back as he worked out last winter.
Kansas City feels these ailments stem, in part, from Zimmer’s inexperience on the mound. But they are wary of instructing him to pitch through pain when he could further damage his shoulder. Thus they continue to search for more information on the reason for his problems.
"We want an answer," Picollo said. "And he said it best. He said, ‘I’m not any good to the organization not knowing if I can give you 200 innings or not.’ So he wants some closure on this, so to speak.’
"If nothing’s there, then ‘OK, I need to figure out how I can deal with this, and what maintenance I need to do every day.’ And if something’s there, then let’s get it taken care of and move on."