MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second time this month, a baserunner elected to test the arm strength of Indians rookie Bradley Zimmer. Once again, that wound up being a poor decision.
During the second inning of Sunday's 5-2 win over the Twins, Zimmer not only uncorked a throw that halted a potential rally, but the center fielder registered the hardest-thrown outfield assist in the Majors this season. According to Statcast™, Zimmer's throw to the plate to nab Max Kepler registered at 101.5 mph.
When told of that accomplishment, Zimmer smiled.
"Wow. That's pretty cool," said the rookie. "I'll take it."
In a short amount of time, Zimmer has established himself as one of baseball's top young defensive center fielders. Not only can he cover an impressive amount of ground -- manager Terry Francona has called the rookie Cleveland's fastest player -- but Zimmer shows quick reactions and a surplus of arm strength.
Like White Sox veteran Melky Cabrera before him, Kepler found that out in the second inning Sunday.
With runners on first and second and one out, Eddie Rosario sent a pitch from Tribe starter Trevor Bauer up the middle and into center. Kepler sprinted from second and had his sights set on scoring, while Zimmer charged forward and gloved the ball. The rookie unleashed a low, two-hop throw to catcher Roberto Perez, who picked the ball and swiftly swung to his left to apply the tag just in time.
"The guy made a strong throw," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Maybe [you can] pick up another foot somewhere along the way, whether it's in your lead, your secondary, your break or turn or something. That's the minute difference in this game sometimes."
Kepler made it from second to home in 6.7 seconds, representing his second-fastest sprint of that kind this year and the fourth-fastest second-to-home time recorded by Statcast™ in his career. Bauer then induced an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Byron Buxton to escape the jam.
Prior to Zimmer's throw, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had MLB's hardest-thrown assist, with a 99.7-mph one-hopper to the plate to cut down Baltimore's J.J. Hardy on May 9.
This marked the second time that Zimmer has thrown a runner out at home plate this season. On June 9, Cabrera attempted to score from second on a single up the middle by Avisail Garcia. Similar to Sunday, Zimmer used a pinpoint two-hop throw to home to retire Cabrera.
"He gets really good jumps and pays attention, and he keeps the ball down," Francona said. "You don't see a lot of guys that get thrown out from center field very often on base hits anymore. But he's got plenty on it, where he can keep it down and keep the mound out of it and be accurate."
Zimmer was credited with his fourth assist of the year in the seventh, though first baseman Carlos Santana cut off the center fielder's throw to the plate this time. On another Rosario single to center, Zimmer came up firing, as Eduardo Escobar scored. On the play, though, Rosario got caught in a rundown after rounding too far off first. The runner was eventually tagged out to end the inning, giving Zimmer another assist on the day.
That one clocked in at 99.9 mph, bumping Harper's assist to third place on the year.
"It's a tough throw from center," Zimmer said. "In a situation like that, when I get it, as soon as I get the ball, I just try to throw the ball right through [the cut-off man's] forehead. The last couple times, I've missed low, but it's better to miss low than high. I feel like my ball has enough carry on it where, if I put it on a line, right through him, it's going to be fine."