Zimmermann earns rotation spot with O's

Rookie lefty slated to face Red Sox on April 4; Harvey goes 5 in final tuneup

March 29th, 2021

's terrific spring has paid off. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde announced on Sunday that the rookie left-hander earned a job in the club’s rotation, bringing its cloudy pitching picture more clearly into focus. Zimmermann, the Ellicott City, Md., native who attended Towson University and still lives in Baltimore, will start the O's third game of the season on April 4 in Boston.

“He’s pitched outstanding in camp,” Hyde said before a 2-1 loss to the Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. “I really like his stuff. He’s a four-pitch guy, he’s been pounding the strike zone all spring. … he’s earned it with how he’s pitched this spring, and I’m looking forward to watching him.”

Emerging from the roster periphery after making two starts down the stretch in 2020, Zimmermann has logged nine scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play with 10 strikeouts and just three walks. He similarly impressed in “B” games and back-field appearances, out-pitching nearly everyone else in Orioles camp as injuries and roster decisions cleared the way to the Opening Day around him. In many ways, what Zimmermann did mirrored John Means’ ascent two springs ago, particularly given their profiles and backstories. Zimmermann will get one more spring start on Monday against the Rays.

"It was awesome," Zimmermann said. "I had a feeling I was going to make the roster. Being named the No. 3 starter is a great honor, and I’m ecstatic about it. I’m really looking forward to going out and competing with the guys. It was a special moment calling my family members and telling my friends. Some already booked flights to Boston to see me that opening weekend. It was definitely a nice culmination to a lot of hard work this offseason. It means a lot, and I’m looking forward to continuing into the regular season and pitching well."

Several factors contributed to Sunday’s outcome, from Félix Hernández’s balky right elbow to Keegan Akin’s disappointing camp to the depth issues that forced the O’s to jettison their starting second baseman less than a week before Opening Day. Zimmermann simply beat out Akin, who was optioned to their alternate training site on Friday, and Dean Kremer, two higher-ranked prospects, while injuries to Hernández and reliever Hunter Harvey (oblique strain) paved the way for Baltimore to carry more bulk-innings types north for Opening Day.

The Orioles' acquisition of swingman Adam Plutko on Saturday underscored the club's need for depth and innings above all else; putting Zimmermann in the rotation now gives the O's bandwidth to break camp with four longman types in the bullpen as well as a five-man rotation, which Hyde said on Sunday they’d open the season with. So far, the team has committed to Means, Matt Harvey and Zimmermann, leaving Kremer, Hernández, Jorge López and Wade LeBlanc vying for the final two spots. All could potentially make the 26-man roster.

“We are going to be really, really young on the mound and inexperienced, but what a great opportunity for these guys,” Hyde said. “To me, this is how you really improve. Every start is going to be a battle.”

Acquired from the Braves as part of the 2018 trade for Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day, Zimmermann grew up an Orioles fan. He was a fifth-round pick of Atlanta out of the University of Mount Olive in the 2017 MLB Draft. He was never a top prospect, climbing the Braves' organizational ranks before breaking out at Double-A Bowie in 2019. He made his Major League debut in his hometown at Camden Yards on Sept. 17, 2020, after contracting COVID-19 during the summer to become the 28th Maryland born player to appear for the Orioles and the 12th to start a game on the mound.

This spring, Zimmermann spoke eagerly about the possibility of returning to Oriole Park to pitch in front of fans, many of whom he considers family, friends and neighbors. Now it appears that will happen in 2021.

Getting back to normal

Hyde also revealed he’s one of several members of the Orioles' organization to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in recent weeks, one day after Means said his first dose contributed to fatigue in his final spring tuneup on Saturday. Speaking after the game, O’s GM/EVP Mike Elias said the team had been offered and accepted extra vaccines that otherwise would’ve gone unused, and planned to continue doing so.

“We think it’s important that as many shots get into as many arms as possible,” Elias said. “We want to see everyone in our organization stay healthy. Eventually, we want our entire organization to be vaccinated. It’s a big priority for us, so I think this is something you’re seeing when there’s excess supply made available that people should make use of them.”

New friends, new faces

Hyde said he was expecting Plutko to arrive in Orioles camp on Sunday or Monday. The team's new right-hander is already saying all the right things.

From the game

Matt Harvey became the second Orioles pitcher to complete five innings this spring in his final regular-season tuneup on Sunday. The right-hander yielded two runs on five hits. Harvey walked two and struck out three, as he finished with a 4.80 ERA in Grapefruit League play. The veteran will start the second game of the season against the Red Sox on April 3 at Fenway Park, and likely the O’s home opener against Boston on April 8. 

Up next

The O's hand the ball to Zimmermann to close out Grapefruit League play at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday against the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. Veteran left-hander Rich Hill counters for Tampa Bay.