Bruce Zimmermann doesn’t want to assume he has made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. That’s one of the reasons the Ellicott City native says he might stay with his parents to start the season.
Zimmermann, who graduated from Loyola-Blakefield, has been the most impressive of all Oriole pitchers during spring training. In three Grapefruit League appearances, he has thrown nine shutout innings, allowing just one hit.
“I went out there with a goal in mind each game of attacking the zone and putting pressure on the hitters,” Zimmermann said. “Being efficient. In all my [appearances], I was able to keep a very low pitch count. There were a couple of times where I fell behind, I worked back through that, put guys away.”
The 26-year-old left-hander has struck out 10 while walking just three.
“There are always things to improve on,” Zimmermann said. “There are balls that were hit hard that were caught. Stats are never perfect in that way, but as far as how I’ve pitched so far, I’m very happy with the results.”
Zimmermann has been an under-the-radar prospect for the Orioles. In July 2018, he was surprised by his inclusion in a trade to his hometown team from the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2017.
Pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day went to Atlanta, and Zimmermann, catcher Bruce Cumberland, infielder JC Encarnacion and right-hander Evan Phillips came to Baltimore.
Zimmermann started five times for Double-A Bowie in 2018 and had a 5.06 ERA. In 2019, he was 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA for the Baysox, earning a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk.
Though slowed when he tested positive for Covid-19 last July, Zimmermann finally reported to the alternate site at Bowie, impressed there, and got to make a big league start last September 17th against Tampa Bay. His family and friends couldn’t be there because of the pandemic.
Zimmermann allowed five runs in three innings against the Rays. He followed it six days later with a four-inning relief stint in Boston, where he gave up a run on two hits in four innings.
For the moment, it looks as if the Orioles are priming him for long relief, with starts perhaps coming later.
Assuming John Means, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Matt Harvey are the first four starters, that might leave Jorge López, who starts Friday night against the New York Yankees, and Zimmermann competing for the final spot in the rotation or long relief. It has been a fluid situation because of right elbow discomfort for veteran Félix Hernández and the effectiveness of Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
“I have not been told anything, so far,” Zimmermann said. “I’m not really expecting to in the next couple of days.They’re still stretching out a lot of starters. I feel really good how I’ve come into camp and played so far. I think I’ve shown what I need to show and done everything I could in my power to show that I’ve earned a spot on the roster.
“I’m going to keep going about my business, taking care of what I need to day-to-day. It looks like I’ll probably get one more outing here before the end of camp. I’m just looking forward to building off what I’ve done so far.”
Zimmermann hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 14th but has thrown in a ‘B’ game against Pittsburgh and on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
“It comes down to getting guys innings,” Zimmermann said. “I was fortunate enough to pitch in games the first three outings of spring. Other guys need to get their innings in as well. When it comes to those games, it doesn’t change how I go about it.
“I go about them with a plan in mind, with certain goals to work on. [Wednesday] when I threw, some of the key things that I was working on changeups and sliders to both sides of the plate was a big goal.
“There’s a little less adrenaline in those back field goals as guys have probably said, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re still getting ready for the season, so you’ve got to go in there with a plan and be committed to it and get your work in for the day because the season is literally a week away.”
Zimmermann would love to pitch in front of his family and friends in 2021.
“It’s definitely a big motivator for me, obviously,” he said. “I can’t deny that. It’s going to be special to finally hear that Camden ‘O’ with fans in the stands for the first time, being on the field instead of being one of the ones yelling it.” The Orioles are allowed 25 percent capacity to start the season, about 11,000 fans.
If Zimmermann makes the team, he’ll consider getting an apartment in downtown Baltimore to avoid the commute from Howard County.
“First things first, got to make the team. We’ll wait to hear about that,” he said.
“Being able to possibly be with the team on Opening Day in Camden Yards is definitely going to be a highlight that I’ll always remember, if that’s possible.”