Sarasota, Fla. — For rookie pitchers Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann, making their big league debuts with the Orioles in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season puts them somewhere between prospect and known commodity this spring.
Each one is trying to build on what they were able to achieve last season without taking too much from the highs or lows that came with their brief time in the big leagues.
“You don’t want to put too much stock into it because in the grand scheme of things, what’s [seven] innings in an entire career?” said Zimmermann, a Towson University and Loyola Blakefield product who has the least experience of the three. “It’s nothing. But at the same time, that tiny, tiny sample size is everything to me, and as far as I got there, I was meant to be there.”
As each begins pitching in spring training games, they bring different approaches to solidify themselves as major league starters for the Orioles.
That was apparent Thursday against the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota. Both results-wise and stuff-wise, Kremer and Zimmermann had wide gulfs in what they were able to do. Kremer was pulled from the first inning because of a high pitch count having walked two batters as he struggled to throw anything but his fastball for strikes. He was better in his second inning, but still allowed a two-out home run.
Zimmermann, on the other hand, had his fastball and curveball working and struck out four in two innings, allowing just one hit.
“I thought Dean had good stuff,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I just think he was searching for command today. But like I’ve said before, his first outing, I think that he was just off with his fastball command and searching for his off-speed stuff, also. But his stuff was sharp and it looked good. It just wasn’t in the strike zone enough.
“Zimmermann, really good two innings. Impressed with the fastball [velocity], had a lot of life to his fastball too. It gets on guys. And then a lot of really good breaking balls for strikes and for chase underneath.”
Neither’s outlook of making the Orioles as a starter, being bumped to the bullpen or having to begin the season at the alternate training site changed much with one outing. But their own thoughts on the outing and their spring in general show how just because they might be lumped together as rookies doesn’t mean they approach things the same way.
Kremer essentially added a new pitch during quarantine last year, such is his commitment to constantly improving himself. He said last month that having made his debut didn’t change how he prepared for this spring at all.
But Thursday, he acknowledged that he wasn’t as mentally locked in as he wanted to be and said that he was just trying to get acclimated to a game setting and competing again. He said it usually takes a few weeks for his breaking ball to get sharp, a span of time that he undoubtedly will be given before the Orioles want to see him at his best.
Zimmermann, however, hasn’t afforded himself such luxury. He wanted to start his spring from a strong foundation by being aggressive in the zone with all of his pitches, and he missed bats with both his fastball and curveball as a result.
“All my springs so far have always been coming in ready to go because I’m trying to make the team so I really don’t really play to the paradigm of easing into where I’m supposed to be at,” he said. “I kind of come in hoping my stuff is pretty close to where I need it to be.”
When Akin debuts on Friday behind Matt Harvey, he’ll likely fall somewhere on that spectrum. He said this week that he’s seeking consistency to even out the highs and lows of his rookie season, and is taking the long view on spring training.
“After having a few innings last year in the big leagues and a couple starts, you kind of get the idea of what you need to work on and you take that into the offseason, and then you just come into spring training and compete and hope at the end of the six weeks you’ve got a job and you’re heading north with the team,” Akin said.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
None of the pitchers seem to be taking anything for granted despite having debuted last year. In the cases of Kremer and Akin, the means being front-runners for major league rotation spots.
At this early point in spring, any kind of success will be a bonus while struggles will be cast aside.
“I think it totally varies, guy-to-guy, year to year,” Hyde said when asked where a player projects affects how he prepares and performs in spring. “That’s why I don’t put a whole lot of stock into spring training, especially early in spring training, because I think guys are in different places in where they are.
“Some guys might be working on stuff, other guys might be trying to make a team, some guys just need to relax a little bit and let it happen and get more comfortable as spring training goes along. I just think right now, it’s just we’re evaluating but at the same time, we’re letting guys get settled in these first few games and we’ll evaluate closer as the spring goes along.”
Friday, 3 p.m.