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After coronavirus diagnosis, Orioles prospect Bruce Zimmermann excited for chance to pitch his way to Baltimore

When the Orioles boarded a bus bound for Fort Myers, Florida, on March 12 and returned to their spring training complex, not long after departing, left-handed pitching prospect Bruce Zimmermann was scheduled to start against the Minnesota Twins.

Instead, that was the day the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport, canceling the rest of spring training and delaying the regular season’s start by four months. But that wasn’t the only impact the virus had on Zimmermann.

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Zimmermann, who lives in Ellicott City, graduated from Loyola Blakefield and also pitched for Towson University, tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, during the Orioles’ intake testing for players at their alternate site in Bowie. The 25-year-old said he was asymptomatic outside of a couple of days with congestion, but he was living at home with his parents, including a father who he said could be considered high risk for the virus’ effects, adding to the concerns.

“Unfortunately, I had to sit out, but the main thing was that I found out and was able to quarantine immediately away from my parents for the most part and do my part to minimize any potential risk to anybody close to me or who I train with,” Zimmermann said on a Zoom call Friday.

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Acquired in a July 2018 trade that sent pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves, Zimmermann posted a 3.21 ERA in 25 outings, all but one a start, between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. Baseball America has him ranked as the club’s No. 16 prospect.

He got plenty of looks in the original spring training, entering that scheduled start against the Twins coming off three scoreless, one-hit innings in his last appearance and six strikeouts across 2 2/3 innings in the one prior.

But Zimmermann soon found himself back in Maryland, taking part in “sandlot-style baseball” with a handful of socially distanced teammates to try to stay sharp for the sport’s eventual restart. He savored moments with family, catching up with his sister and helping his dad redesign their back porch area, and tried to spend more time looking at books than screens.

“We had so much free time and I did not want to be on my phone and Netflix all the time,” Zimmermann said. “There was a lot of positives that came out of it.”

When baseball arrived, Zimmermann had to wait a couple of weeks longer. He was not a member of the Orioles’ initial training camp roster. When the club began to open its alternate training site in Bowie about a week later on July 8, Zimmermann was tested for the virus, now standard practice as the sport tries to play through a pandemic.

A couple of days later, Zimmermann learned he tested positive.

“To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve thought to get tested or even found out that I was positive because I had basically no symptoms,” Zimmermann said. “I was healthy. I never had a fever. Never lost taste or smell or any of the very common COVID symptoms that happen. But honestly, thankfully, I did find out through the Orioles’ in-take testing because currently I do live with my parents.

“That was a blessing in disguise.”

As he did during baseball’s shutdown, Zimmermann worked to stay sharp. He took a net to a nearby high school field and threw long toss and bullpens. He sent video of the sessions to Orioles director of pitching Chris Holt and the other pitching coaches at Bowie, building himself up to about 50 pitches as he awaited the consecutive negative tests required to return.

“Thankfully, I don’t think I really lost too much compared to the guys in camp and it’s been a seamless reentry as far as no physical issues,” he said. “Just kind of hit the ground running as soon as I got back to Bowie.”

On Aug. 3, Zimmarmann was added to Baltimore’s 60-player pool, making him eligible to join the club at some point this season. He tweeted it had been “a long road” to his return, mentioning he took some heart tests to measure the virus’ impact on his body. He clarified Friday that those tests are standard part of teams’ medical re-entry processes.

“Knowing some of the correlation between COVID and heart and lungs in the general population from what we’re seeing with this virus, there’s always that possibility,” Zimmermann said. “But obviously and thankfully, all those tests came back negative.”

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Now, he’s excited to simply play baseball. He’s built up to about 60 pitches, or four innings worth, even though his scheduled outing in Bowie last week was rained out. He’ll return to the mound Tuesday, hoping to continue to work toward the dream of playing for his hometown team after having his path directly affected by COVID-19.

“I’m feeling just as good as I did in spring right now, so just taking it day by day and trying to get back to that point and be ready for when the Orioles need me,” Zimmermann said. “They’re doing pretty well right now, which as a Baltimore native, it’s been awesome to see this happen, see the slow ticks of the rebuild coming to fruition. I’m just really happy to be part of the 60-man because obviously, there’s so many minor leaguers that don’t get that invite.

“Whenever they need help or they need an extra arm to come in and fill a rotation spot or whatever, I’m hoping my name is on that shortlist, but obviously, I just want to see the team continue to do well.”

Around the horn

The Orioles selected the contract of right-hander Chandler Shepherd, giving their 40-man roster 39 members. Right-hander David Hess was optioned in a corresponding move. ... After completing their suspended game against the Washington Nationals, the Orioles will made a roster move to add a 29th player, relief pitcher Cody Carroll, to their roster for Friday’s second game.

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