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Zimmer sets sights on injury-free season

Righty prospect throwing 'free and easy' after years of pain, discomfort, surgeries
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Royals right-hander Kyle Zimmer dreams of the day he won't have to answer another question about his health.

Soon after he was drafted in the first round in 2012, Zimmer's career became marked by a series of health setbacks. There were elbow procedures, shoulder procedures and a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. Then in '16, Zimmer hoped that thoracic outlet syndrome surgery would finally be the ticket to a healthy season.

KANSAS CITY -- Royals right-hander Kyle Zimmer dreams of the day he won't have to answer another question about his health.

Soon after he was drafted in the first round in 2012, Zimmer's career became marked by a series of health setbacks. There were elbow procedures, shoulder procedures and a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. Then in '16, Zimmer hoped that thoracic outlet syndrome surgery would finally be the ticket to a healthy season.

But Zimmer's 2017 was dogged again by soreness and discomfort. Last November, Zimmer went through another procedure to remove sutures from a past procedure -- the sutures were left in deliberately at the time to promote healing.

"It'd really been bugging me," Zimmer said at last weekend's FanFest. "But they're out, and now I'm throwing free and easy.

"I threw my first bullpen [Thursday]. Threw 20 fastballs, 18 strikes, super free and easy. And no pain."

No pain is, of course, the key. Through all the procedures over the years, Zimmer has thrown over 100 innings just once in a season.

"I'd just like to show up to the ballpark and be a normal guy," Zimmer said. "I understand [injuries] sort of have dictated my career. My goal is to show up and not have to answer questions about my health. But I know to do that I have to prove I can sustain [being injury-free].

"If [other people] get frustrated with my health problems, multiply that by a thousand for me."

Zimmer, 26, is on schedule, he said, to be ready for Spring Training in two weeks. He is not concerned right now about velocity during his throwing program.

"Last year, I was up to 98-99 [mph] with pain," he said. "So now it's free and easy. I don't see any reason why the velocity won't be back up there."

How the Royals intend to use Zimmer remains to be seen. Last season, they tried the righty, the team's No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline, in the bullpen. Eighteen of his 21 outings between Double-A and Triple-A came in relief.

"I'm open to both," Zimmer said. "I've done both now. I know how to mentally prepare for both roles."

Mostly, though, he just wants to blend in and contribute.

"It's sort of been a puzzle," Zimmer said. "I think we finally filled in that puzzle.

"I couldn't be more grateful to this organization. They've stuck with me."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Kyle Zimmer