SARASOTA, Fla. -- Like so many rookies who reached the big leagues in 2020, Bruce Zimmermann is hoping for, working toward, an encore debut of sorts, in front of fans. He already has more than most rookies, especially in the greater Baltimore area.
And yet, the Elliciot City native debuted on Sept. 17 in a vacant Oriole Park, while so many of those friends and relatives were stuck inside their homes -- so near, yet so far away. Had these been normal times, his brother predicted the hometown kid would’ve attracted a crowd that “doubled the normal attendance” at Camden Yards. Now, Zimmermann is trying to turn that vision into a reality.
“If all things go well, they won’t have to wait too long to see me,” Zimmermann said. “Hopefully, with the regulations somewhat relaxing, all that comes together and I can get that second debut in Baltimore.”
Despite the circumstances, the 26-year-old lefty called the two appearances he made down the stretch last season “the cherry on top of an extremely weird year.” It was certainly the culmination of a long, winding journey, ultimately leading back home.
The Loyola Blakefield product arrived in the O’s organization in 2018, via three colleges, then the Atlanta Braves, as part of the return package for Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day. Zimmermann reached Triple-A the following year, then turned heads at big league camp before the pandemic struck. During the shutdown, he participated in protests for racial justice in the Baltimore area.
Once Summer Camp began, Zimmermann was slowed by a bout with COVID-19. He officially overcame his long big league odds by debuting in September, becoming the 28th Maryland native to suit up for the O’s (and the first to start a game since Steve Johnson in '12 -- and 12th to start a game overall).
“It was very fast, and I wish I was up there for a little longer, but it was an amazing experience,” Zimmermann said. “Coming back home was definitely interesting, with COVID going on, the city events were limited, unfortunately. But I still got to work lessons with kids and talk to some of the local programs, and be that face -- one of the Maryland guys who made it.”
That’s the type of impact he hopes to be able to make on his local community for years to come. His immediate goals are more on-field related: To crack the O’s Opening Day roster by claiming a back-end rotation job. As it stands, Zimmermann probably needs to pitch his way into what’s a crowded mix of rookies and reclamation projects behind John Means to achieve that.
But it’s not difficult to envision him heading north with the club in a bulk-innings role, whether that be in the rotation, the bullpen or as a swingman type. In that sense, Zimmermann appears to be competing with the likes of Jorge López, Thomas Eshelman and Wade LeBlanc more than full-time starting prospects Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin this spring. All are candidates to provide depth during a year in which the O's will implement workload restrictions on many of on their younger arms as they play 100 more games than they did in 2020.
“We have a lot of candidates and a lot of different ideas about how to form that pitching staff once we break camp,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think an ideal situation is to have as many guys able to throw as many innings as possible.”