CLEVELAND -- When Bradley Zimmer first sat down with reporters over a Zoom call at the start of Summer Camp, he was asked whether he’d be ready to be used as a pinch-runner if the team needed him. After a quick pause, Zimmer said he’d be willing to do anything the team needed, but he knew he could provide more than just speed.
Since then, he’s done everything in his power to back his statement.
Zimmer understands why he may have been underrated heading into the 2020 season, as he's been limited to just 43 Major League games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But now, he’s making sure his presence is known. He went 3-for-3 with two home runs off of Mike Clevinger during Wednesday's intrasquad scrimmage. Zimmer launched another homer on Thursday, this time off of Logan Allen.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling really good,” Zimmer said. “This is honestly what I expected. Probably coming into this, a lot of people honestly haven’t really looked at me as an option. I’ve probably been overlooked. But in my mind, the quarantine and all that gave me more time to get ready to come out here and prove that I’m here for a reason. At this point, I’m just playing. I’m healthy. Everything feels good. I’m just happy to be playing baseball again.”
It was expected at the start of Spring Training that Zimmer would need more repetitions before he returned to the Majors. He was shut down halfway through the 2018 season to get right shoulder surgery. He missed the start of '19 while recovering from the procedure, with an additional few months tacked on the end due to oblique injuries. Zimmer returned to the big leagues in September and went hitless in nine games.
“I’m definitely not one to ever doubt that kid,” Clevinger said. “He looks like an avatar; he is an avatar. ... You used to be able to beat him all day inside [with] high heaters in the strike zone. He’d never get to them because [of] how long he is. Then bringing those arms in and get into his legs because the kid’s all legs. He’s going to be a dangerous, dangerous player with that speed.”
When Zimmer, Cleveland’s first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, broke into the Majors in '17, he left an impression that allowed his team and fans to dream about his potential future with Cleveland. Despite the injuries Zimmer had to overcome, Indians manager Terry Francona knows what Zimmer can provide.
“I don't think we ever forget that,” Francona said. “It sure is nice to see what he can do. He hits the ball out the other way, he hits a ball out to straight center. He played left field [on Wednesday], which he hasn't played a lot of. It's exciting. You look at him and then you look at Daniel Johnson, some of these younger outfielders, it can get a little exciting.”
It’s not a usual season for someone who’s missed so much time to get thrown back into. The Indians won’t have any wiggle room for their typical slow starts to the year, and they will not be able to experiment with some of their younger players who are close to being Major League ready. But no matter how much time Zimmer sees, he doesn't view the shortened season as a challenge.
“I’m all in,” Zimmer said. “We’ve heard the term, ‘It’s a sprint.’ For me, it’s just like any other season. Sixty games, it’s still a lot of baseball games. I’m going to treat it like any other regular-season game. I’m going to play as I would normally. I think that’s the key; just treating it as normal as you can."
Cleveland will have to determine over the next week whether Zimmer is worth the risk of carrying someone who’s had a hot Summer Camp, but who hasn’t recorded a hit in a big league game since 2018. However, after starting the year with low expectations of being included on the Opening Day roster, Zimmer has worked his way to being in the thick of the outfield position battle.
“I wish injuries and missed time upon nobody,” Zimmer said. “It’s really tough. It hurts; it really does. But I think it makes you a better player, a better person. I went through a lot the last year or two. I battled through tough times, and I think it made me much better and much stronger now. I’m ready to attack, and I’m ready to play ball.”