If left-hander Bruce Zimmermann is getting a reset in the minors, Justin Ramsey is one of the most important people trusted to push the right buttons.
The Orioles gave Zimmermann 13 starts before making the hard decision to send him down to Triple-A Norfolk. They didn’t want to create another hole in their rotation and try to piece together innings with heavy bullpen usage. They didn’t want to demote a pitcher, the Baltimore native, who broke camp as their No. 4 starter and stood on the mound for the home opener.
They didn’t have much choice. Zimmermann allowed 35 earned runs in his last 36 1/3 innings and surrendered 17 home runs, bringing his total to 18 that tied for most in the majors.
The 14 2/3 scoreless innings to begin the season couldn’t save his job.
Ramsey, in his first season as Tides pitching coach, is tasked with getting Zimmermann to a point where the Loyola Blakefield graduate is ready to reclaim it.
Zimmermann relieved Spenser Watkins in his first game with Norfolk and allowed five runs in his first inning. He followed with four scoreless, started Tuesday night against Gwinnett and allowed only one run and three hits with seven strikeouts in six innings.
Ramsey watched video of Zimmermann’s initial appearance, unable to attend the game because he had reported to Camden Yards as an observer and to join in pitchers meetings held during the off-day. He was back in the dugout Tuesday.
“I thought he did a better job of attacking from pitch one,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, that first inning didn’t go great in his first outing, but he settled in nicely and actually gave us really nice coverage, which is good to see. This time he had a better feel for all his pitches, and especially his changeup, that’s really starting to come back. I know it’s been a point of emphasis for him since, really, the first month of the season.
“The other thing he did was, he was actually throwing harder his last inning than he was at any other time. He flashed a couple 93s. So it was good to see him kind of putting it all together with the work that he’s done between outings, and going back to even when he was still up there before he came down.”
Ramsey gathered information on Zimmermann from Orioles assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes and minor league pitching coordinator Mitch Plassmeyer, who joined the organization in late May from the University of Missouri and specializes in how the body works with the delivery.
The plan in these instances is individualized. One method or approach isn’t universal.
There also are numerous conversations with Zimmermann, “just figuring out what he’s doing,” Ramsey said, “and trying to chip away at what works best for him and what he needs to do.”
Zimmermann thought he might be tipping his pitches and made some tweaks to better conceal the ball. Ramsey checked and hasn’t seen any evidence of it.
“We’ve been looking for it because he mentioned it, but he’s been very consistent with all his movements,” Ramsey said. “He certainly brought that up as something to keep eyes on, and what we’ve seen so far has been really good. There hasn’t been anything that he’s given away.”
Through all of this, Zimmermann has maintained a positive attitude that could get him to Baltimore faster, working in rhythm with the improved changeup, tick up in velocity and consistent mechanics.
“He’s been great,” Ramsey said. “I first got to know Bruce, really, at the alt site, so we’ve had a little bit of time together in terms of just establishing a relationship and building a rapport. He’s been awesome.
“He’s tackling the work every day, he understands what he’s here to do. This isn’t, obviously, where he wants to be, but he understands it’s all part of it, and he’s been fantastic.”
Past success wasn’t a fluke. The Orioles know that Zimmermann can be effective at the highest level. And most important, so does he.
There’s evidence of it.
“You could see the way he handled the first month of the season,” Ramsey said. “Anytime you’re in the AL East, it’s going to be a monster no matter what. He was mowing through lineups. So we all see it. It’s just a matter of getting that feel back, and also that confidence back to trust his weapons and attack the hitters.”