A year ago, pitcher Bruce Zimmermann was digesting an eventful 2018 season. He was unexpectedly dealt from the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Braves, to the team he grew up pulling for, the Baltimore Orioles, at the trading deadline.
In five starts with Double-A Bowie, he was just 2-3 with a 5.06 ERA. But a year later, it’s a much different story for the 24-year-old left-hander.
Not only did he have a far better season with Bowie, with a 5-3 record and a 2.58 ERA, but Zimmermann got his first Triple-A exposure.
“I was very satisfied, overall,” Zimmermann said. “I made a lot of changes, more changes this year than I was expecting to within my arsenal of pitches and how I attacked hitters.”
His first full year with the Orioles was the team’s first with a new regime, and he found working with Chris Holt, who has been promoted to director of pitching, to be beneficial.
“I put a lot of faith into the analytics,” he said. “It was very satisfying to see those results play out in a way that improved my game and allowed me to get to that next level at Norfolk.”
Things weren’t as easy with the Tides. Zimmermann had a 4.89 ERA in seven starts with a 1.603 WHIP.
“I was making to make a few changes, adjusting to hitters at the higher levels, seeing how those players go about their approaches,” Zimmermann said. “I look forward to building on that in this upcoming season.”
The Ellicott City resident, who attended Loyola-Blakefield, was able to have his friends and family enjoy his time with the Baysox as much as he did.
“After the trade situation, I was limited with innings and, honestly, I was trying to get my feet wet in the organization,” Zimmermann said. “2019 was a much looser environment. I was settled in. I knew the coaching staff.
“Consistently having relatives and friends and old teammates and some teachers or just people that grew up in the Maryland area with me, having them in the stands and knowing I had the support of those people behind me, it was great to have. I enjoyed every single outing, whether it was five people or 30 people. I enjoyed having that local feel … knowing that they were behind us. It was an added benefit, and once we started rolling at Bowie, started winning, it was just a great overall atmosphere of winning in Baltimore that hopefully we get to see in a few more years.”
After Norfolk’s season ended, Zimmermann went to the Driveline facility in Seattle to work on his mechanics, his four-seam fastball and developing a curveball as a fourth pitch. He’s working out both in Elkridge and in the Philadelphia area in preparation for next year.
It’s likely that Zimmermann will return to Norfolk to begin the 2020 season, and familiarity should help.
“As far as the numbers go, I had a few really good starts,” Zimmermann said. “I only had a month-and-a-half to do what I could up there.
“The hitters are more refined. You have a lot more older players in Triple-A … guys that are more established within their own plan of attack and so the preplanning and the analytics that come into seeing the hot zones of these guys, the tendencies …
“I try not to delve too far into the analytic side of it. I like to read hitters the first time and … react to in-game actions…There’s more of a step of preplanning and also seeing what tendencies do I have in certain counts, what tendencies do I have to throw certain pitches in certain counts.”
The majority of Zimmermann’s teammates at Norfolk had major league experience.
“You just get fewer mistakes,” Zimmermann said. “The guys up there are better. They hit more mistakes if you make them, so you have to minimize the amount of mistakes. You definitely can’t walk guys. Once you get guys on base, it’s havoc, especially with the [lively] baseball we were playing with at Triple-A.”
Zimmermann grew up watching the Orioles, and now that he’s in Norfolk, Baltimore seems close to home.
“When I got to Double-A, that’s when it set in,” Zimmermann said. “One step away, being so close to Camden Yards in Bowie. Once you got to Triple-A and seeing the guys that had [major league] service time and talking to them and seeing what they were about, it puts it into perspective that you’re one hot streak away from getting that call for a start.”
He watched Hunter Harvey, Austin Hays, Mason Williams and Austin Wynns get called up late in the season.
“This upcoming year, it could happen,” Zimmermann said. “It makes it really exciting, especially for the other young guys on the team.”
Zimmermann is one of a number of pitchers who have put themselves in contention for the next step. He’s played with Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells, the other top prospects in the organization.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Zimmermann said. “It creates a competitive environment for all of us because we know that we’re the next wave of guys that hopefully can get up there.
“There’s a lot of similarities between us … and the success that a lot of us have been able to see, especially in the past year, year-and-a-half. It’s exciting. It’s a lot of fun going out there and competing every five days, whenever those guys get to pitch because we know we’re all fighting for the same thing.
“… We talk every day about what we’re seeing, what we’re doing, things like that, so having that level of competition among guys you know you might be on a big league team with, competing at the highest level, it makes it a very exciting environment to be able to work in.”
Orioles announce winter event: The Orioles will hold a Winter Warm-Up at Oriole Park on Saturday, December 14, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There will be local vendors, businesses and food trucks along with live holiday music. The Orioles Team Store will offer a 50 percent discount on merchandise and the Orioles Authentics store a 25 percent discount.
There will be a discussion with Executive Vice President/General Manatger Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde and assistant GM analytics Sig Mejdal.
Admission is by a $5 donation or by contributing a winter coat for individuals and families in need at Paul’s Place.
Renewing season ticket-holders can attend free of charge. Free parking is available in Lot A. The first 1,000 fans receive an Orioles Sherpa Blanket.
For more information on the event, visit Orioles.com/winterwarmup.