Zimmermann's 'done everything' for spot

Stewart running out of time; Hays, Mountcastle enjoy big days in win

March 26th, 2021

On paper, the parallels are uncanny. A left-handed pitcher, who was never a top prospect, arrives in an Orioles camp rife with opportunity after a brief big league debut the year before, pitches great in Grapefruit League play to emerge from the roster periphery and never looks back. You’ve heard it before, haven’t you? Of course. Because it’s the story of John Means.

What if it’s also the story of ? Maybe it’s unfair to expect Zimmermann, the Ellicott City, Md., native southpaw, to parlay his strong spring into an All-Star appearance or a future Opening Day assignment. But what he’s done this spring mirrors the early stages of Means’ ascent in 2019 in so many ways. Now the question is: Will it be enough to crack the O’s roster?

“I definitely look to follow [Means’] lead when it comes to going about my work,” Zimmermann said before Thursday’s game against the Pirates. “It's a nice compliment to hear [the comparisons] and I attribute it to what I've been doing down here, so I'm very happy with that.”

What he’s done is simply out-pitch everyone else in Orioles camp, striking out 10 over nine shutout Grapefruit League innings and similarly impressing in “B” games and backfield appearances. It’s the kind of performance Zimmermann, who allowed six runs in two big league appearances down the stretch last season, needed to turn heads this spring and avoid opening the year at the O’s alternate training site.

That still could happen, but enough has transpired in recent weeks to open the door for him to head north with the club next week, whether it's in the bullpen or in the rotation. Injuries to Félix Hernández and Hunter Harvey, specifically, cleared the way for the O’s to carry at least one extra bulk innings arm on the roster, and that was before Thursday’s release of Wade LeBlanc eliminated another bulk innings candidate. The Orioles could also still opt for a six-man rotation to start the year.

“I feel really good about how I've come into camp and how I've played so far,” Zimmermann said. “I think I've shown what I needed to show and done everything that I could in my power to show that I earned a spot on the roster.”

From the trainer’s room
Time is running out for injured outfielder to begin the season on the active roster. On Thursday, manager Brandon Hyde said Stewart’s strained left hamstring was “90 percent healed,” but not enough to forecast a return to game action. Stewart has been sidelined by the injury since March 5, limited to backfield work and live batting practice sessions. But he’s yet to progress to sprinting with a week to go until Opening Day.

If nothing else, the situation has sucked much of the drama out of the Orioles' crowded outfield competition this spring, giving the clear path to their fourth outfielder role. Hays continued his torrid spring Thursday, contributing a three-run homer, a triple, a double and two outfield assists in a 10-9 win over the Pirates. He’s hitting .409 with a 1.197 OPS in Grapefruit League play, and could be in line for at-bats at designated hitter with Stewart on the shelf.

“I feel healthy,” Hays said. “I feel comfortable at the plate, I feel good at all three outfield spots right now, I’m comfortable on the bases, so I just feel like I’m ready and firing on all cylinders -- and I’m healthy, just ready to get rolling.”

More from the game
It’s been a different story this spring for rookie left-hander , who was tagged for six earned runs over 2 1/3 innings in his final Grapefruit League start Thursday. The Orioles were committed to giving Akin, their No.11 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, every chance to make the Opening Day rotation after he held his own down the stretch in 2020, going 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA in eight games (six starts). That might still happen. But if it does, it won’t be on the merit of his camp; Akin has posted a 10.00 ERA in four games (two starts) this spring.

Right-hander Mac Sceroler enjoyed a more effective outing in relief of Akin, wiggling out of a jam in the third en route to 2 2/3 scoreless innings. It was likely the last look the O’s get this spring of Sceroler, one of two Rule 5 Draft picks in camp (the other, Tyler Wells, will likely make his final appearance Friday). The outing dropped Sceroler’s spring ERA to 6.43, but all those runs occurred during his second outing on March 5. Thursday marked his third consecutive scoreless outing.

Welcome back
The non-disclosed, non-injury that kept out of Wednesday’s lineup didn’t hold him back for long. The rookie left fielder returned Thursday and connected for a three-run homer off Richard Rodríguez in the second, his fourth of the spring. Trey Mancini and Pedro Severino also contributed run-scoring hits in support of Akin and five others.

Sun’s out …
The Orioles are celebrating the end of spring with relaxed vibes. Just check out the photos from their “Cutoff Thursday” workout, featuring sleeveless Mancini and No. 4 prospect DL Hall:

Up next
The Orioles embark on their final weekend of the spring Friday by traveling to Tampa to play the Yankees. Right-handed rotation hopeful Jorge López takes the ball against Gerrit Cole, with first pitch set for 6:35 p.m. ET from Steinbrenner Field.