Zimmermann makes debut (O’s win 4-3)

SARASOTA, Fla. - Bruce Zimmermann used to dream about slipping on an Orioles uniform while growing up in Baltimore.

The fantasy didn’t include a first-pitch home run, but it’s spring training and wouldn’t kill the moment.

Zimmermann replaced starter Asher Wojciechowski today in the top of the third inning on an overcast and windy day at Ed Smith Stadium. Bryce Ball, sitting at the bottom of the Braves’ lineup, greeted him with a shot to deep left-center field.

Baseball can be heart-warming and harsh within seconds.

ed smith stadium.jpgAn infield hit later in the inning was followed by a 5-4-3 double play. The kindness had returned.

“When it’s like that, first pitch in my first spring game in my first spring training, it was like, well, move on to the next one, kind of put it behind me,” he said. “The guy put a good swing on it. The same thing you do in a normal outing if that happens. You just put it behind you and you try to get back in the dugout as quickly as possible.”

Facing his former organization, Zimmerman, 25, came back out for the fourth and gave up a bloop single to Travis d’Arnaud before inducing a fly ball and another 5-4-3 double play.

The home run seemed even less significant.

“I was watching Wojo and they were being aggressive on first-pitch fastballs, so we knew we had to hit a good spot in general, but just missed it a little and the guy put a good swing on it,” he said. “After that it was just settling back in. One swing, one run, but after that it was about getting the clean inning done and getting the guys back in the dugout.”

Zimmermann’s fastball touched 94 mph and he mixed in his other stuff while facing a legitimate Braves lineup. He built up his pitch count by throwing in the bullpen after he came out.

“It’s awesome,” he said. I mean, obviously growing up as an Orioles fan this is everything that I could have dreamed for and this is another step in the process. But being down here with the guys and getting introduced to the culture, meeting the guys who are up there day to day, it’s been great so far and I’m looking forward to continue building on that.

“It wasn’t any nerves, but I’m not used to coming straight out of the ‘pen like that, so I should have given myself a few more moments to sit down before I went in. But other than that, once I settled in that first inning and then going back out for the second was just like business as usual.”

Business that was broadcast on MASN, with family and friends able to view it.

“I know there’s a lot of people watching,” he said. “I was getting a lot of texts yesterday and stuff saying good luck, and this morning. I know some of my friends will probably give me hell for giving up a first-pitch home run, but besides that I know it’s a lot of support and love from my family and friends back home and I appreciate that.”

Zimmermann wanted the Braves to bring their A team. No soft spots in the lineup, which speaks volumes about him as a competitor.

“That was fantastic,” he said. “I was kind of hoping because I know they do split squads obviously in spring training, so I was hoping some of them would still come over because they’re so close in (North Port). So it was definitely exciting and got a lot of really good experience from those guys. Obviously those are some of the youngest, most talented guys in the game, so there’s always something you can learn from that. It was just a great learning experience for me.

“I just want to show them what I can do, that I can contribute to the team, especially hopefully in a starting role. Being able to take innings and go out there and compete every five days and help gives us a chance to win.”

Manager Brandon Hyde watched Zimmermann throw live batting practice on the stadium field and also a couple of bullpen sessions. That was pretty much the extent of his exposure to the Loyola Blakefield graduate.

“Judging by our hitters’ reactions to his stuff, they were all very impressed,” Hyde said earlier today. “He’s got life to his fastball. I saw a good breaking ball in his live BP, also.”

Who doesn’t enjoy flipping through the pages of a good local story? The kid who grew up rooting for a team that later traded for him.

“I just think playing in the big leagues, no matter where you grow up, is a huge deal. Pretty cool if you’re a local kid,” Hyde said.

“I think that he’s going to get a real opportunity to show what he can do in this camp, and there are a lot of people who are really high on him, so we’ll see.”

Wojciechowski retired the Braves in order in the first inning on 15 pitches, 11 for strikes. Johan Camargo worked him for nine before grounding out. Wojciechowski struck out leadoff hitter Ronald Acuña, Jr.

The first pitch of the second inning was clobbered by d’Arnaud. The Braves weren’t interested in working the count today.

Adam Duvall singled with one out, but Peter O’Brien struck out and Cristian Pache grounded out.

The Orioles staked Wojciechowski, no longer restricted by a blister, to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. No one was credited with an RBI.

Hanser Alberto led off with a single and Dwight Smith Jr. singled and stole second base. Alberto scored on d’Arnaud’s passed ball and Smith came home on left-hander Sean Newcomb’s wild pitch.

Spring small ball.

Newcomb struck out the side in the second, all of them looking.

The Orioles took a 4-2 lead in the fifth on Dilson Herrera’s double, Ryan McKenna’s RBI single and a wild pitch. Richard Bleier allowed a run in the sixth.

Update: Eric Hanhold picked up the save by stranding a runner in the ninth inning in a 4-3 win.

Hyde was impressed with Zimmermann’s recovery from the first-pitch home run.

“He did a nice job,” Hyde said. “He just kind of left a fastball over the plate to a guy we don’t know very well and gave up the homer, but after that I thought he mixed his pitches well and threw strikes. Did a nice job attacking hitters and a nice two innings.”

Wojciechowski made it through two innings without the blister resurfacing.

“I’m going to go check now but I think everything turned out, he’s healthy and I thought he had a good fastball today and located pretty well,” Hyde said. “That was a good first outing for him.”

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