It only took about five minutes from the time left-handed pitcher Bruce Zimmermann found out he had been traded to his hometown team for his phone to start going off continuously.
“It was beeping for the next few hours,” Zimmermann said. “Everybody from old coaches to relatives to friends from high school, guys I played summer ball with when I was 13 and 14. It was pretty awesome to see the reception from everybody back home.”
Zimmermann, a Woodstock native and Loyola Blakefield product who also played his first two years of college ball at Towson, was in the clubhouse with Double-A Mississippi at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline when he received word he was one of four minor leaguers traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Orioles for pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day.
“Everybody grows up wanting to play for their hometown team as a young baseball player and that never changes,” said Zimmermann, 23. “It’s always been a dream of mine to come back and play for the Orioles. When I heard the news, I was just shocked. The Braves are a first-class organization and I had no complaints about being in their system.
“I was really settling in and getting to know everybody there, the coaches and the players. You never really want to leave an organization like that, especially when they have that good a reputation, such good personnel and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of personal benefits from coming home … so I’m looking forward to making the most of it.”
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This year, Zimmerman’s first full pro season after the Braves selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Division II Mount Olive, has been a whirlwind. He’s gone from starting the season at Low-A Rome, pitching exceptionally there, then skipping the High-A level and drawing a surprise promotion to Double-A Mississippi before changing organizations. He is expected to be slotted into the Double-A Bowie starting rotation.
If anything, one of the biggest challenges for any pitcher coming up through the Braves system is distinguishing himself in a farm system deep in promising arms at all levels. But that’s what Zimmermann accomplished with Rome, going 7-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 14 starts, striking out 99 with 18 walks in 84 2/3 innings, earning a promotion to Double-A.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” said Zimmermann, who has a low-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup and a developing curveball. “I just tried to put my head down and go out there every day and put my work in, and whatever moves happen happen. That definitely wasn’t something that was on my mind. The only thing that was on my mind was the notion that I’d probably be in Low-A the whole year because of the guys ahead of me. I was content with the fact that I probably wasn’t going to get out of Rome this year. Obviously, something else was in the works.”
Zimmermann was 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA in six Double-A starts, but is still transitioning to a new level. His walk totals were up (19 in 28 2/3 innings) and his ground-ball rate of 39 percent is lower than the 47.2 percent mark he compiled in Rome.
“Skipping a level can be kind of nerve wracking, but I was just trying to stick to the game plan,” Zimmermann said. “The game just basically speeds up. The talent is better, but for the most part, the game just gets a little bit quicker. I try to remember that because it is daunting to be able to skip a level, but at the same time you want to make the most of that opportunity and ride out the rest of the year. I kind of just tried to stick with what I knew and what got me success so far this season and trust my defense behind me, quick outs, stuff like that.”
Now, Zimmermann faces a new challenge of establishing himself in a new organization.
“Basically the game plan for the rest of the year is fine-tuning some of the mechanical stuff and developing that curveball,” Zimmermann said. “I think in the second half of the season, that was the main goal with the Braves, refining the curveball and throwing it whenever I need to. Because I’m with a new organization, I think my main goal is coming here and trying to establish myself as much as possible before the end of the year.”