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Left-handed pitcher Bruce Zimmermann, a native of Ellicott City, came to the Orioles as part of a trade on July 31, 2018. He made his major league debut in September in a start against Tampa Bay and made one relief appearance.
He spoke about his experience in 2020, and what lies ahead.
Question: How is this offseason different from previous ones?
Zimmermann: “In the nature of my work and how I approach it, it’s another offseason, but the mentality and the intangibles of this offseason are definitely a lot different, considering post-debut and everything like that, and the nature of the moves that have been made and looking forward to the 2021 season … there’s a lot more on the line.
“It’s even more important. It seems like every offseason, since 2018, it’s getting more and more important, the work that I can get done during my offseason to prepare me for the next year. As far as work, it goes the same way with identifying the strengths and weaknesses from the previous season, the things I most immediately want to work on to prepare for the next season, but it’s definitely a little more exciting knowing that I’ll be going into 2021 as a 40-man guy, actively participating for a rotation spot, if not a bullpen/swing guy spot, whatever the team may need.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘established’ by any means yet, but it feels good I was able to get my debut this year, and looking forward to the 2021 season, knowing that I’m definitely right in there in the mix as far as earning a more established spot with the team and, hopefully, having a solid spring training again. If everything goes well, possibly even breaking with the team along with the other young kids like [Keegan] Akin, [Dean] Kremer, and the other guys coming up.”
Q: What did you get out of those last couple of weeks of the season, being with the Orioles?
A: “They were everything. Obviously, the debut was everything. I’ve been dreaming of it, working for it [since I was] a kid. Just being up there in the show is a completely different experience. They say getting there is one thing, but staying there is a completely different story, and you can really see that, talking to the older guys and the guys that have been there before like [Alex] Cobb and younger guys that are established like [John] Means, [Chris] Davis, some of the other position players.
“It was just really, really exciting to finally be a part of that and try and take in as much as possible, ask questions as much as I could, keep my mouth shut and listen as much as possible, especially working with [former pitching coach Doug Brocail] and [bullpen coach Darren] Holmes.
“I got more up there in two weeks, working with those two guys and talking to the pitchers than I’ve gotten out of, taking nothing away from my other minor league coaches, but I got just an immense amount of information and experience from those two weeks. I definitely wouldn’t trade them for anything and taking what I learned from that into the offseason and, hopefully, 2021.”
Q: Was the debut missing something because your family and friends couldn’t be there?
A: “I think there’s nothing wrong with saying that. It was a very interesting season for everybody. That debut is something that every player dreams of. It was perfect in its own way. I’m definitely looking forward to having fans in the stands in 2021 and, hopefully, those fans will be my family and friends that have followed me and I grew up with, and watched me … throughout my years playing Maryland baseball.
“I wouldn’t change my debut for anything. There’s a very big part of me that’s excited for that debut, Round 2 in Baltimore when there’s fans in the stands and my family is in the stands. If anything, it’s a benefit, it’s a gift. Me and the other guys, we kind of get two debuts in that sense. Definitely looking forward to a little more normalized 2021 and definitely being able to have my parents, my siblings and my cousins in the stands cheering me on.”
Q: Has the uncertainty on the timetable for the 2021 season affected your preparation?
A: “No, we have a tentative date. That’s the one I have based my schedule around. If it turns out that the date gets pushed back, that just means I get to tweak my schedule, maybe add a few other things that I would prepare on doing down at spring training. Instead, I would get to do them at home.
“But there’s nothing about the 2021 season and what’s going to happen with it that would change my preparation progress at this point. I had been on a throwing program. I’ve been on a lifting program. Both of those have guidelines and a goal to meet, and both of those have a tentative ending date, February 16, when I report to spring training.
“The offseason is the same as it is, and baseball is a game of unpredictabilities. That would leak into the other aspects of the game, so if it comes down to it, we’ll pivot and make the necessary adjustments with the coaches and trainers to tweak my programs, and we’ll be ready for the next date …
“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. There’s no sense worrying about it. The only thing I can worry about now is what I’m doing is to follow the plan that I’ve laid out [by pitching coach Chris] Holt and Holmes and the other strength coaches to be ready to go when the rubber hits the road on February 16.”
Q: You were an Orioles fan growing up, and traded to Baltimore as part of the rebuild. Do you sense there’s a change in the organization?
A: “I think we’ve definitely taken a lot of strides. With the craziness of the 2020 season, this was the first year that the fan base, especially, finally saw some of the work that the organization has been putting in to fully dedicate themselves to this rebuild, and what that means.
“It’s not an easy process. There’s bumps in the road, but I think there are a lot of positives that came out of this 2020 season, especially in terms of prospect growth and younger guys like myself and Akin and Kremer and [Ryan] Mountcastle and [Austin] Hays making good contributions to a winning ballclub.
“Really just looking forward to building on that, really happy to be part of a young core of guys that, hopefully, we can stick together for the next few years and really see steps taken every single year to grow, knowing that we have a strong group of prospects, especially pitching-wise, hot on our heels that are itching to get up there and also contribute.
“I think the organization’s in a really good place, and they’re taking the necessary steps. I think we’re still maybe a year or two away from really, really big difference making win/loss total season, but as far as taking the necessary steps to rebuild and get better every year, I think the organization is doing the right thing so far, and I think the guys like myself, and the other guys have brought into that aspect of it. I think every year, we’ll start seeing more and more pieces fall into place about moving forward to be a competitive team in the AL East once again.”
Q: You said you got a lot out of those two weeks in the big leagues. What are some examples of that?
A: “The biggest thing is getting there is one thing, staying there is another. I took that from talking to guys like Cobb and the older established bullpen guys we have like [Shawn] Armstrong, who’s just a wealth of knowledge.
“The rest of the pitchers that have been up there a few years, just talking to them and realizing that, know what makes you successful and figure out what those things are and be uncompromising in what it takes. That may be recovery. That may be your day-to-day throwing, what you need, how you handle yourself off the field. Be uncompromising in what it takes to be a big-leaguer.
“Everybody wants to be one. That work to stay there is a totally other aspect of it. On the flip side of it, be grateful that you’re there. You’re playing a kids game. You’re in The Show, and not losing sight of that aspect of it because we only get so much time in this game, and you’ve got to do everything possible to be prepared and to stay there, but also to enjoy the camaraderie and the day-to-day, and the travel even though it stinks sometimes.
“Getting to travel to different cities and, hopefully, playing in front of thousands of fans and things like that. On the flip side of things, the nuts and bolts of it, being out in the bullpen for the back half of the two weeks and getting that one bullpen appearance in Boston, and that possibly being part of my future with the Orioles, wherever they may need me, just talking to the guys like [Thomas] Eshelman, who was the other swing man, and how he goes about [preparing] for a game, depending on the situation, what he does, when he starts getting ready, how to stay loose in the bullpen, but also be able to lock it in right away …
“Definitely learned a lot about being in the bullpen for the last week-and-a-half because that’s something that’s completely foreign to me, but [could] very well be part of my future career. I would like to stay in the rotation, but you’d like to be able to succeed at both.
“There’s a lot of things that I took away from it. One was to be uncompromising in your duty as a big-leaguer and a teammate of taking care of business, not taking anything for granted, but enjoying each and every day up there and learning new things about how to be prepared day-to-day in new roles.”
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