Bruce Zimmermann believes he’s done all he could to make the Orioles roster out of spring training, and with one more outing likely left for him down in Sarasota, Florida, that’s not likely to change.
The final few days of camp, however, can be volatile from a roster standpoint. And for a rookie like Zimmermann, who has been running one proverbial race for the past few months and knew who he was competing with, the biggest threats to his spot on the active roster are probably outside the organization right now.
“It’s usually a crazy week,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said on the MASN broadcast of Thursday night’s Orioles-Pirates Grapefruit League game. “A lot of roster moves, guys exercising opt-out clauses in their contracts if they’re on minor league deals, out-of-options players being informed they’re not going to make the Opening Day team and then they go on the waiver wire. …
“You’ve got to stay on your toes.”
That goes for the players as well. In 2019, the last normal spring training, catcher Chance Sisco had a strong camp and was looking like he could make the team, only for Pedro Severino to land on waivers and take his spot.
More than anything else, that’s what could keep Zimmermann from getting the reward he deserves for a strong camp.
Zimmermann, a Loyola Blakefield graduate from Ellicott City, has been statistically the Orioles’ most impressive pitcher of the spring. He struck out 10 in nine shutout, one-hit innings over three Grapefruit League games, but because the Orioles are trying to prepare essentially two full starting rotation’s worth of pitchers to be ready to turn a lineup over multiple times in the regular season, his last two outings haven’t been in game action.
The young left-hander said pitching in “B” games against the Pirates or in intrasquad games doesn’t change what he’s trying to accomplish. It does, however, change the visibility. Some teams provide statistics for such games, but without them in this case, only Zimmermann and manager Brandon Hyde’s positive feedback from those outings illuminate what happened.
If he ended the spring with somewhere around 20 innings and the last few outings were as good as the first, it would be criminal to keep him off the big league team next week.
That said, a clear path is in place for him to be at least a long reliever on the Opening Day roster of 26.
The Orioles’ pitching plans were clarified somewhat Thursday with Matt Harvey being added to the 40-man roster and Wade LeBlanc asking for and receiving his release. Hyde said nonroster right-hander Félix Hernández came out of his first light bullpen session since leaving his start March 16 with elbow soreness well, but that he was constantly being reevaluated and there’s a lot left to do to get him back on a mound in a game.
That shifts the question to one of how the Orioles can keep Hernández in the organization and get him game-ready as opposed to how they can make a spot for him on the Opening Day roster.
Elias stopped short in his broadcast interview Thursday of saying Harvey was in the rotation, but Hyde noted an adjustment in Harvey’s schedule this week was made to get the rotation in order for the season. Opening Day starter John Means is the only true definite piece, while rookies Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin entered camp in good positions and might not have lost them despite uneven springs.
Zimmermann then falls into a group with out-of-options swingman Jorge López for the team’s fifth starter and long reliever mix. Rule 5 draft picks Tyler Wells and Mac Sceroler could fill long-relief roles as well, if the Orioles believe they can keep one or both on the 26-man roster all season.
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But with LeBlanc and Hernández out of the mix, at least for now, no one in Sarasota seems to be an obstacle for Zimmermann.
Because the Orioles would have to risk losing López on waivers if they don’t bring him north for Opening Day, and with the Rule 5 roster requirements for Wells and Sceroler, Zimmermann’s roster spot could be the most at-risk if the Orioles look outside the organization to enhance their stocks of major league pitchers.
Other than LeBlanc, the most notable free-agent starter who opted out this week was right-hander Ivan Nova. Nova was released by the Philadelphia Phillies and might just be the beginning of a wave of veteran starters who come available.
It might be more of those types than out-of-options pitchers who the Orioles will be choosing from in the coming weeks; teams will likely be loath to give up a pitcher who could potentially deliver bulk innings considering the strain on staffs this year.
But if a veteran who leaves another camp and can start right away becomes available — think Dan Straily in 2019 — then the Orioles would likely pounce and figure out the roster implications later.
That’s the type of thing Zimmermann can’t — and won’t — concern himself with.
“I feel really good about how I’ve come into camp and how I’ve played so far,” he said. “I think I’ve showed what I needed to show and done everything that I could in my power to show that I earned a spot on the roster and whatnot. I’m going to keep going about my business and taking care of what I need to take care of day-to-day.”