Some baseball players slump in April. Others fade in the second half. But when looking across the sport for the most disappointing start in 2017, it would be hard to top Royals pitcher Brian Flynn. A broken back in the days before spring training will put you on that list.
The scary incident took place in early February on Flynn’s property in Oklahoma. He was replacing a few roofing panels on his barn before leaving for Surprise, Ariz. He took a wrong step and fell 12 feet onto a concrete slab, sustaining a broken rib and three non-displaced fractures in his vertebrae. As you might expect, he’s ready to move past the episode.
“Not exactly how I drew it up coming off last year,” Flynn said. “But hopefully (I can) make up some ground right now.”
The hope came Monday afternoon as Flynn stood inside the Royals clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, recalled from Class AAA Omaha after rookie left-hander Eric Skoglund was optioned out.
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Royals manager Ned Yost said Flynn was diagnosed with a Grade 1 groin strain. He could face a trip to the disabled list.
“It’s rough,” Flynn said. “I missed it, man.”
Flynn recently re-joined the starting rotation at Class AAA Omaha and elevated his pitch count to 94 on Aug. 13 while allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings against Iowa. He exited his last start after just 3 2/3 innings after feeling tightness in his groin. Flynn stressed the early departure was for precautionary reasons.
Before the back injury wiped out half his season, Flynn was set to compete for a bullpen job in spring training. He posted a 2.21 ERA in 53 innings across 35 relief appearances for the Royals in 2016, enjoying a career breakthrough of sorts. But Flynn, who was called up earlier this season but did not pitch, says the return to the rotation in Omaha offered the opportunity to make up some innings.
“Right out of the gate, the life wasn’t quite there,” he said of his fastball. “So that whole first month was a struggle. I kind of took for granted shaking the rust off when the hitters are shaking their rust off, too.
“Because I came back up in the zone, and they were just whacking it all over the yard.”
The rotation experience also afforded him the luxury of working on more secondary pitches, specifically a curveball and a change-up. But for now, Flynn will primarily rely on a fastball-slider combination.
“It’s what helped me have some success here last year,” Flynn said.
Acquired from Miami in a trade that sent reliever Aaron Crow to the Marlins before the 2015 season, Flynn has had an interesting tenure with the Royals. He dominated in spring training in 2015 before being sent to Omaha and suffered a season-ending injury in his first outing. He engineered a successful return in 2016.
Now he’s trying to overcome a scary setback.