xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Maryland native Bruce Zimmermann to serve as Orioles’ third starter in five-man rotation: ‘He’s pitched outstanding’

Despite a strong camp not being enough to clear the uncertainty about his place on the roster the Orioles will bring north as spring training entered its final week, Ellicott City native Bruce Zimmermann recently allowed himself to imagine what being part of the opening day festivities at Camden Yards might be like as a player, rather than an attendee.

“It’s definitely a big motivator for me, obviously,” Zimmermann said this week. “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.

Advertisement

“First things first, got to make the team.”

He’s done that. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde announced Sunday that Zimmermann will start the third game of Baltimore’s 2021 season April 4 against the Boston Red Sox, following former All-Stars John Means and Matt Harvey in what Hyde said will be a five-man rotation. The 26-year-old left-hander, a Loyola Blakefield product who the Orioles acquired in a July 2018 trade that sent pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves, has pitched nine shutout innings this spring, allowing one hit with 10 strikeouts while also impressing in his work outside of Grapefruit League action.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“He’s pitched outstanding in camp,” Hyde said. “Really feel like he’s had a really good spring training. He’s had some good starts here. He’s pitched outstanding on the backfield and in a B game and some other things that he’s done. I really like his stuff. This guy’s a four-pitch guy. He’s pounded the strike zone all spring. His velocity’s ticked up, his breaking balls have been sharper, and he’s healthy and ready to go. He’s earned it with how he pitched this spring, and we look forward to watching him pitch.”

Zimmermann, Baltimore’s No. 14 prospect per Baseball America, made his major league debut last summer, but the outings came in empty ballparks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. After giving up five runs in a three-inning start at Oriole Park to open his career, he struck out five across four innings of one-run relief in his second outing.

Hyde said Means will make his second start in the Orioles’ sixth game, completing a three-game series against the New York Yankees, with Harvey possibly facing Boston in the home opener April 8. The club has a day off the next day, but if the order remains the same, Zimmermann could make his second Camden Yards debut, this time with fans, April 10.

The circumstances of this spring, with only a certain number of players able to travel or be at games amid COVID-19 restrictions, means many of the Orioles’ other starters haven’t been able to watch Zimmermann’s impressive outings this spring. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t taken notice of him.

Advertisement

“I feel like every time I’m in the weight room or training room getting work done, he’s right there next to me,” Harvey said. “It’s fun to see his work ethic. He’s in there every day. He’s working hard. He’s a strong kid. ... Just seeing the numbers that he’s been putting up and seeing how hard he works, it’ll be exciting to throw next to him.”

With the league expanding from 60 games in 2020 to the traditional 162 games in 2021, teams are desperate for innings, and Zimmermann entered camp primed to provide them, if not in the rotation, then as a potential long reliever in the Orioles’ bullpen. But his performance in the spring allowed him to leapfrog several other rotation candidates, including fellow rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, both of whom made their debuts before Zimmermann last year.

Although Akin has been optioned and will begin the season at Baltimore’s alternate training site in Bowie, Kremer is a likely candidate for one of the Orioles’ final two rotation spots. He and Zimmermann have pitched on the same day throughout spring. Other options for the back end of the rotation include Jorge López, Wade LeBlanc and possibly Félix Hernández, though the former Cy Young Award winner hasn’t pitched in a game since March 16 because of elbow discomfort and would need to be added to the 40-man roster. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Saturday he expects Adam Plutko, acquired Saturday in a trade with Cleveland, to open the season in the bullpen.

The Orioles have also stretched out several relievers in an effort to cover all of the innings that will be needed in 2021, with Hyde noting that all of them have worked multiple innings and pitched back-to-back days either in games or on the backfields.

With Kremer likely joining Zimmermann as rookies in the rotation — and eventually more on the way in Akin and prospects Mike Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells — the Orioles will have plenty of young starters as they take on a daunting American League East schedule.

“What a great opportunity for these guys to pitch in the toughest division in the game,” Hyde said. “For me, this is how you can really improve, to be facing the guys that they’re gonna face on a nightly basis, day in, day out. Every start’s going to be a battle. They’re going to be facing somebody good, not only a good opponent, good lineup, but a good starter on the other end. It’s a great test for our players.”

And in 2021, Zimmermann will be one of the first to take it.

Around the horn

>> Rio Ruiz, the Orioles’ primary third baseman the past two years, started at second base in Sunday’s spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s made only two professional appearances there: one-inning, late-game stints for Baltimore each of the past two seasons. Hyde said he didn’t want Ruiz to be surprised if he was needed to play the position again during the regular season.

>> The Orioles complete Grapefruit League play Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Zimmermann starting. The team will be off Tuesday per a league-wide mandate, then work out Wednesday before flying to Boston.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement