On Thursday, the wait lasted another day. Kyle Zimmer remained captive in extended spring training, the result of a vexing shoulder ailment. He spent another day at the Royals facility in Surprise, Ariz. The immediate future of the Royals’ top pitching prospect remains uncertain — at least for the moment.
Zimmer’s season was delayed when a shoulder issue — team doctors have called it “shoulder fatigue” — surfaced during spring training, the latest setback for a right-handed pitcher who has battled injuries for much of his four-year career. The latest ailment was unwanted and frustrating. Yet Royals officials remain hopeful it won’t interfere with their preseason vision for Zimmer, which included a possible callup to Kansas City. For now, the Royals are exercising caution. In the long term, they still believe Zimmer could help the big-league team in 2016.
“If he’s healthy, we all know what he can do,” Royals assistant manager J.J. Picollo told The Star.
When spring training began, club officials were optimistic that Zimmer, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, was poised for a breakthrough season. He finished the 2015 season with a clean bill of health, spending the offseason at home in San Diego instead of rehabbing in Arizona. He impressed at big-league camp, showcasing his front-line stuff while starting the spring training opener. He was likely ticketed for the rotation at Class AAA Omaha, but Royals officials were bullish he could debut in Kansas City before the end of 2016.
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“If he gets off to a good start this year,” Picollo said in early March, “and we need a starter in the major leagues for whatever reason, he needs to be ready for that.”
Zimmer was optioned to minor-league camp in mid March. The shoulder issues began to surface soon after that, Picollo said.
Picollo said the Royals detected a problem during throwing sessions. Zimmer didn’t have the same life on his fastball, and club officials elected to shut him down for “four to five days,” Picollo said. After the layoff, Zimmer continued his throwing program, but he has yet to return to a mound. He is expected to start throwing side sessions in the coming days and could progress to throwing live batting practice and innings in extended spring training games, depending on how his shoulder reacts.
“There is not a specific schedule with him,” Picollo said. “Tomorrow is based on how today went. We’re on more high alert with him.”
The caution is based on history. Since being drafted with the No. 5 overall pick in 2012, Zimmer has been handcuffed by injuries. He underwent an elbow cleanout after the 2012 season. He strained his latissimus dorsi muscle in May 2014 and pitched only 4 2/3 innings that season. After the 2014 season, he underwent a minor shoulder operation to remove damaged tissue from his rotator cuff. The injuries took a toll on Zimmer, but club officials don’t believe the latest issue resides between his ears.
“We don’t feel like what he’s going through is mental at all,” Picollo said. “Because we know he loves to pitch. He wants to be out there … there’s something that’s keep him from doing that.
“I think the mental part is trying to stay positive.”
Perez set for a day off
Royals manager Ned Yost said he had targeted Saturday as the first day off for catcher Salvador Perez, who was in the starting lineup Thursday for the ninth straight game. The Royals are set to open a three-game series against the Oakland A’s at 9:05 p.m. Friday before having a day game on Saturday. Perez benefited from three off days during the opening week. He also got a brief rest on Monday when reserve Drew Butera finished the game in an 8-2 loss.
The ring ceremonies continue
The Royals are set to hand out another World Series ring this weekend in Oakland. Former reliever Ryan Madson signed with the A’s in the offseason after playing a pivotal role in the Kansas City bullpen in 2015. Any player who spent time on the Royals’ 25-man roster in 2015 is eligible for a World Series ring. The Royals prefer to hand out the rings in person if the schedule allows.