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Bruce Zimmermann’s memorable ‘second debut’ shows he’s no hometown novelty act, but a future Orioles rotation piece

The Orioles’ Bruce Zimmermann was cheered for more loudly than your average rookie pitcher Saturday night on his way to a second straight quality start because of his local roots. Going forward, it might simply be because he deserves it.

There’s no better story than a hometown player succeeding for the local team the way Zimmermann is. A vocal portion of Saturday night’s announced crowd of 9,307 at Camden Yards was there to support him, and they won’t remember the score of the game as much as they’ll remember seeing Zimmermann look like he belongs on a big league mound.

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The last week has proven as much, and as nice as it is for the Orioles to be able to tout Zimmermann’s Howard County roots and Loyola Blakefield education, they need as many sturdy starting pitchers as they can get at this stage in their rebuild. He’s starting to look like he’ll be one of them, and the fact that he has pitched well against the Red Sox, first with his whole arsenal firing and then by grinding without his best stuff, is one of many reasons why.

“That first start, I definitely had pretty much everything working and I was able to just attack, attack, attack the entire time and go after this pretty strong lineup,” Zimmermann said after the Orioles’ 6-4, 10-inning loss to the Red Sox on Saturday night. “And this evening, I didn’t have my breaking stuff like I did the first outing. Thankfully, I still had the changeup — it was still really on. So, I was able to fall back on that and I had to make adjustments throughout the game.”

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Having an idea of how to pitch has never been an issue for Zimmermann, who was acquired from the Braves in the trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta in 2018. Zimmermann spent the next year at Double-A Bowie with a 3.01 ERA and a 1.255 WHIP. He struck out 117 batters in 122 ⅔ innings and ended 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk on the cusp of the majors.

He made his debut at the end of 2020, making one start at Camden Yards before ending the year with four innings of strong relief the last week of the season in Boston. Still, Zimmermann had to earn a spot on the team this spring, and left little doubt.

Scouts and Orioles coaches raved about his pitches, particularly the quality of his slider below the strike zone to get swinging strikes, and his fastball velocity crept up into the mid-90s. He meant to showcase all that and more after a focused offseason that included time at Driveline Baseball and an intensive local workout routine ahead of the 2020 season. However, the COVID-19 shutdown and his own subsequent case of the virus meant he wasn’t at his best when he was called up.

Still, he ended the season as one of three Orioles who made their rotation debuts along with Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin, giving the team promising long-term candidates in an otherwise difficult season on the farm.

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The pitcher the Orioles are seeing now, though, looks like one who can stick in the big leagues. Even with family and friends in the stands, Zimmermann was in control of the moment Saturday. His strength and athleticism are apparent on the mound. He missed bats with all four pitches and was unfortunate to have the same pitching line — three runs allowed in six innings — as he did last Sunday.

In a first inning that dragged on for Zimmermann, he allowed a run on a single by Rafael Devers and then a second when Devers was caught in a rundown on a back-pick at first base from catcher Chance Sisco. The rundown attracted so much attention from the Orioles that Xander Bogaerts managed to score from second base before they made the out.

He was one strike away from ending the day with just the two runs allowed when Devers hit a big home run in the sixth inning.

“I didn’t think he had his slider early, too,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think he was mainly fastball/changeup. That’s impressive, pitching against the same team [twice] in a week and being a young pitcher, a good lineup. Guys who have had pretty good careers up until this point, guys in the lineup, keeping guys off balance. Giving up two there in the first — he should have given up one — and then giving us six really good innings, keeping us in the game. That was an excellent job pitching.”

That it came before at least 50 family members and friends at the ballpark he grew up going to games at made for “an outpouring of support that a hometown kid can only dream of having,” Zimmermann said.

“Pretty much everything I could have imagined for it,” he said. “It was extremely special I had all my siblings here and their spouses behind home plate and probably three or four pockets of friends. … You name it, they were out there supporting me. I definitely heard them throughout the night, while I was warming up. It was very special, and definitely one I remember.”

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