SARASOTA, Fla. – Bruce Zimmermann broke camp with the Orioles last spring and spent the offseason trying to repair himself.
The Baltimore native understood that he had to do a better job of separating the two-seam fastball from the four-seamer, which he introduced in 2022. It became an issue.
There was more work to be done.
Zimmermann also adjusted his slider grip, going back to the shape of it from a few years ago that was getting many more swings and misses.
Maintaining consistency in his delivery also became an issue for Zimmermann, who didn’t allow a run in his first two starts, held the Angels to two earned over six innings in Anaheim, and couldn’t sustain it. The Orioles optioned in June and he made only two more appearances in the majors, an inning of relief in July, and a Game 2 start in a September doubleheader.
“Mechanics would kind of fall a little bit in an inning and then it would bounce back,” Zimmermann said. “So, it was just really getting on the mound a lot more this offseason to really lock in those small, minute changes. And think we did a pretty good job with it. Feeling really good with the work that I put in in camp so far.”
Zimmermann left today’s start on a high note after retiring the Rays in order in the second inning and doing so in pretty rapid fashion.
Wander Franco hit a two-run homer in the first inning in his first spring at-bat, a slider launched to deep left-center field after Manuel Margot dumped a single into right. Brandon Lowe reached with two outs on a bloop single to left, but Zimmermann struck out Harold Ramírez on three pitches.
Zimmermann threw 22 in the first inning but breezed through the second. He retired five of six batters after Franco’s home run.
“I think it felt really good, to be honest with you,” he said. “I mean, I could have done a little better job being somewhat more aggressive, especially with Franco. But just knowing how well of a fastball hitter he is, I think I was just a little bit too on the edges with him. And then, got unlucky with a slider there at the end.”
“Overall, thought my stuff had pretty good shapes. I got some bad swings that ended up with hits, and got some swings and misses on some other ones. The changeup felt really, really good today. So, overall I think it’s a positive first outing.”
“The good thing about this camp is that it’s a full-length camp, so really looking forward to getting back out there and continuing to build and progress the rest of the spring.”
Zimmermann was the No. 4 starter heading north last spring. He’s in an intense battle to get back into the rotation.
“You guys can see the amount of starters we have down here,” he said. “A lot of guys last year did a lot of good things for some decent stretches and they brought in some other guys. I think we have 15 starters maybe in here that got considerable innings last year in the major leagues. So, I think everybody’s aware of the competition and what this camp is about, but I think guys are really excited about it, as well, because the last five guys standing are really going to be a good competitive product to really push this year and build on what we did last year.
“I think everybody is pretty excited, but it’s a long camp with a lot of competition.”
Zimmermann needed a fresh start before he could begin retiring hitters. He saw some positive results in September with Triple-A Norfolk, allowing three runs or fewer in his last three games.
“When I finished up last season, I thought I did a really good job of how I did in Triple-A finishing out the year strong and really building back on what I was doing at the beginning of the year,” he said. “Unfortunately, our guys were pitching amazing in the big leagues, so I just had to kind of wait. So, coming into this camp, that’s how I felt, getting back to a little bit more of a grinder mentality and winning my position back.”
“I’m really excited with how I’ve been doing in camp so far and really looking forward to building up and then showing what I can do into this season.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said Zimmermann had some bad luck in the first inning.
"Gave up the homer, but chalk ball on kind of a blooper," Hyde said. "I thought his stuff looked good. First outing, just good to see him out there and get two innings out of him."
Anthony Santander was struck on the left knee by a pitch from former Orioles farmhand Garrett Cleavinger in the sixth inning. Santander fell to the dirt, got back up, and limped to the dugout with assistant athletic trainer Mark Shires.
Robert Neustrom pinch-ran for Santander, who’s leaving camp next Monday to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Santander was able to walk to the clubhouse between innings.
Hyde said Santander has a contusion on the knee and is day-to-day.
"I think he's OK," Hyde said.
Lewin Díaz doubled to right field and Coby Mayo’s fly ball reduced the Rays lead to 9-2. Díaz had an RBI double and three-run homer yesterday in Lakeland.
Ramón Urías singled in the bottom of the first to drive in Cedric Mullins, who singled and moved up on Santander’s walk.
Yandy Díaz led off the third inning by homering off Joey Krehbiel. Franco singled and Randy Arozarena cleared the left field fence for a 5-1 lead.
Arozarena doesn’t let up on the Orioles, no matter the month and setting. He’s a career .372/.420/.723 hitter with 15 home runs in 37 games.
Left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez retired only one batter in the fourth. He walked Margot with the bases loaded and Franco followed with a two-run double, leaving him a triple short of the spring cycle.
Arozarena’s sacrifice fly off Ryan Conroy increased the lead to 9-1.
Niko Hulsizer tripled off Andrew Politi with one out in the fifth – Mullins misjudged the ball – but the Rule 5 pick got out of the jam with a strikeout and grounder.
"He showed a good breaking ball," Hyde said. "He's shown a good breaking ball in his side sessions and live BPs. Also, first outing, so don't want to read too much into it, but I thought his stuff looked good."
Noah Denoyer gave the Orioles two scoreless innings. Easton Lucas allowed four runs in the eighth, was removed with two outs, and watched Phoenix Sanders let an inherited runner score for a 14-2 Tampa Bay lead.
The Orioles failed to score in the seventh after loading the bases with no outs on two errors and Anthony Bemboom’s single – a line drive that left fielder Jordan Qsar fumbled on a sliding attempt.
Ryan Mountcastle won the longest drive competition with a foul ball in the first that might have landed at the Sarasota airport.