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Orioles lose to Rays, 10-6, swept in doubleheader as Ellicott City’s Bruce Zimmermann makes first career start

Bruce Zimmermann’s major league debut – pitching for his hometown team as the visitors at an empty ballpark not far from his Ellicott City home — came on a night so quirky that the future generations of Orioles fans in his baseball-loving family might never believe it.

Zimmermann, though hoping for a different result, will still never forget it.

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“Just tried to take it all in, to be honest with you,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve been to this stadium numerous times with family and friends to watch the Orioles, but it was a little different feeling when I got to the stadium today, just taking it all in and realizing this was the culmination of a lot of hard work and just trying to make the most of it.”

The 25-year-old left-hander became the 12th Maryland native to start a game for the Orioles in Thursday night’s 10-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, who clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season with a doubleheader sweep at Camden Yards.

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In debuting Thursday, Zimmermann, who allowed a pair of home runs, joined fellow rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer as Orioles rookie pitchers at the vanguard of the team’s push to develop their its own starting pitching. His first start, in which he allowed five runs on four hits in three-plus innings, won’t diminish his place in that group.

Manager Brandon Hyde said Zimmermann “left with the lead, and we didn’t hold it.”

“I just thought he left a couple pitches up,” Hyde said. “Threw the changeup up to [Willy] Adames for a homer, and then the center-cut fastball there to [Hunter] Renfroe, which was really the damage that he gave up. I just thought he had a tough time getting the ball down in the zone. I thought he showed good stuff, good life to his fastball. Just made a couple pitches that were up in the zone, and paid for it.”

Said Zimmermann: “Overall, I thought it went well. I got hurt on a couple pitches, but I didn’t do myself any favors with the walk and the hit-by-pitch in the first inning. Obviously, it’s the same game but it’s faster up here. You can’t make those kind of mistakes. But overall, I felt like my stuff was good. Definitely a start that I can build on, and I’m looking forward to my next one.”

Zimmermann went to Loyola Blakefield and later Towson University before continuing his college career at Division II Mount Olive University in North Carolina. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.

He was already at Double-A Mississippi a year later when the Orioles acquired Zimmermann and three other players for pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day in a July 31 trade. After pitching well for a combined full season at Double-A Bowie, Zimmermann finished 2019 at Triple-A.

As a nonroster invitee in spring training, it seemed his debut was possible this summer, although the coronavirus pandemic pausing sports for months and Zimmermann testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at the secondary site in Bowie delayed it plenty.

Those circumstances made it so Zimmermann had to make the Camden Yards debut of his dreams in an empty stadium, with his parents Bruce and Marcie watching on their couch with his grandmother in the Ellicott City home where Zimmermann still lives.

When they appeared on the team’s television broadcast, Marcie said they were “missing it like all other Baltimoreans” when it comes to being at Camden Yards. Her husband could only imagine how many people would have been in the stands on this misty night watching their son if family and friends were allowed to attend.

His grandmother, Teresa Slade, said on the broadcast that she loves to watch the Orioles, and watching Zimmermann pitch for them was “so special.”

Zimmermann said he told his family and close friends he was starting Thursday late last night and “really started getting hammered on my phone" around noon when the team announced him as the starter. He said the lack of fans and the crowd he would have drawn made him less nervous, and he tried as much as he could to be focus on the assignment at hand.

He got nervous pulling up to the ballpark, he said, and then again about an hour before the first game of the doubleheader when he went into the home dugout by himself to soak up the scene and the moment just hit him.

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“You only get one debut, and I wanted to make the most of it,” Zimmermann said. “It was pretty surreal overall.”

The extra eyeballs he brought to the game on television saw plenty of action.

The three-run home run by Adames in the first inning put the Orioles behind 3-0, and Hanser Alberto’s third of the season cut that deficit in the second inning. Ryan Mountcastle doubled home DJ Stewart in the third inning to make it a 3-2 game, but Hunter Renfroe ambushed Zimmermann’s first-pitch fastball in the third for another home run that made it 4-2.

Rio Ruiz tied the game with a two-run home run of his own in the top of the fourth, and Stewart had a two-run double to give the Orioles a 6-4 lead. Joey Wendle hit a two-run home run off Travis Lakins Sr., who replaced Zimmermann, to tie the game at six. It didn’t stay that way long, as a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth against Cole Sulser came around for the go-ahead run.

A series of loose throws on infield singles accounted for three more runs off Dillon Tate in that fifth inning, though Evan Phillips entered and struck out all four batters he faced as consolation.

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