Royals’ Heath Fillmyer: Pitching through shoulder pain a “learning experience”

From the outside looking in, you could certainly make the case that this has been a lost season for Royals right-handed pitcher Heath Fillmyer. Injury and ineffectiveness have characterized most of his year, but he’s had solid outings out of the bullpen in September.

For Fillmyer, the best way to describe he’s come up with for the season is “learning experience.”

After rocky outings in the majors in April, Fillmyer went back down to the minors where the his shoulder issue only got worse. He eventually spent a long stint on the injured list from the end of May to the middle of July with a shoulder impingement.

Well, that ailment actually has plagued Fillmyer dating back to the start of spring training. He and the Royals training and coaching staffs decided he could work through it.

“I wanted to play baseball,” Fillmyer said. “Everybody wants to play, in that urge you’re going to do everything you can to play and put yourself in the best circumstance to play. It’s just unfortunate that it got to the point where it couldn’t really work anymore.”

In four April appearances (three starts) he posted a 9.00 ERA, allowing 21 hits and 15 runs in 15 innings. Opponents batted .333 against him, and he had a WHIP of 1.73.

Fillmyer tried to just put his head down and pitch through it. He admits there were some days when he felt okay, but for the most part each of the days between starts were a physical grind. His body didn’t respond to the routine of starting every fifth day the way it had in the past. He didn’t feel “himself.”

It wasn’t until he got sent down that it reached a tipping point and he got shut down for that extended period.

In his 13 appearances in Triple-A after his IL stint, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings. Opponents batted .180 against him and he had a 1.24 WHIP.

He chalked up his physical struggles as a “learning experience” in how far he could push himself and take care of his body.

Since coming back to the majors, he’s felt the difference physically.

“I’m throwing without pain which is obviously what you want,” Fillmyer said. “My recovery time has been a lot faster. (Friday) I went back to back and my body felt great. My body has been recovering and bouncing back great now. I can’t really ask for anything else.”

He’s held opponents scoreless in four of his five September appearances for the Royals going into Thursday, and he hasn’t allowed a hit in three of them.

Hat tip from Homer

Former Royals pitcher Homer Bailey tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out a season-high 11 against his former team on Wednesday afternoon in Oakland. Royals left-hander Danny Duffy and Bailey engaged in a pitchers’ duel.

Bailey, whom the Royals had signed during the offseason and traded to Oakland in July, lauded the Royals as a better team than they appear on paper.

“I don’t think that they’re record kinda really explains their team as well,” Bailey said. “I even said when I first came over here that they’re still kinda trying to find their way. The top five, top six guys in their lineup are nothing to slouch about. (Jorge) Soler almost has 50 home runs. They’ve got a bunch of other guys. You have an All-Star in (Whit) Merrifield. So you go out there (against) a team like that, if you look at their record you can’t take them lightly because they put up some runs.”

The defending champ

Royals infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield entered Thursday night’s series opener leading the majors with 195 hits, seven more than New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu. Merrifield led the majors in hits last season, and he’s bidding to become the first right-handed hitter to lead the majors in hits in back-to-back seasons since Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett did so in 1988-89.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.