How Zimmermann’s return impacts rotation and roster

The TBA for the Orioles’ starter Sunday afternoon is expected to become rookie left-hander Bruce Zimmermann in the latest change to the rotation.

The tweaking never stops. It just takes a brief rest.

John Means and Matt Harvey are staying for the obvious reasons. The Orioles were reluctant to move Jorge López into a bullpen role, though they saw the same logic as everyone else, and he’s completed six innings in both starts this month with only three runs allowed to lower his ERA from 6.19 to 5.75.

Keep running him out there.

Spenser Watkins lasted only four innings last night and allowed six runs and seven hits. He’s surrendered 18 earned runs (19 total) and 27 hits in 19 2/3 innings over his last four outings, which makes the ground beneath his feet less solid.

Keegan Akin might be the most vulnerable with Zimmermann’s return. He’s 0-6 with a 9.57 ERA and 2.045 WHIP in nine starts over 36 2/3 innings, and he’s lasted only three innings in each of his last three starts.

Here’s where the developmental debate rages on. Whether Akin should stay in the rotation because the Orioles view him as a starter and these lessons are beneficial or move back into Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation because the Orioles view him as a starter and this isn’t where he should be learning or switch to relief because the Orioles view him as a starter but also a potential bulk reliever and their bullpen needs innings coverage.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer endorses Akin starting at Norfolk if the rookie leaves the Orioles’ rotation. I asked him during last night’s broadcast.

Zimmermann-Delivers-White-NYY-Sidebar.jpgManager Brandon Hyde already confirmed that Zimmermann goes back into the rotation. It’s just a matter of how to make room on the roster.

Keeping Akin on the team likely would remove reliever Dusten Knight, with Marcos Diplán’s 5 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings cementing his place in the bullpen. Unless the Orioles decide to make a bold move, of course.

Knight retired the first four batters he faced last night and Bobby Dalbec homered. He walked the next two and stranded them.

Men in the middle: The Orioles used the same double play combination last night of Jorge Mateo at second base and Richie Martin at shortstop, in part to evaluate and also because Ramón Urías is day-to-day with a sore right upper leg/groin.

Martin homered to account for the Orioles’ only run and Mateo had a two-out double in the ninth inning.

“I think what you notice is the range both of them have, the arm strength both of them have,” Hyde said.

“You’ve seen Mateo a few times backhands over the bag, off-balance throws with something on it, double play turns. He’s got a really good arm. Richie we’ve known and seen, and Richie has improved the last couple years. He didn’t play much last year or at all. In ‘19 he made a lot of improvements from the beginning of the year to the end. He’s continuing to get better at short. He’s always had arm strength, he’s super-athletic, can make the tough play as well.

“Both of these guys are really tooled up and incredibly athletic, and the field shrinks a little bit for the hitter just because of their range, so I’m impressed with both of them defensively.”

Final word on Chris Davis: I’ll remember the long home runs and long stretches when he couldn’t buy a hit. The epic win in relief on May 6, 2012 at Fenway Park that launched the Orioles into contender status. The muscle and misery, the humor and horror. A strutting contradiction. A player going from superhero to villain as if performing a heel turn in professional wrestling.

Has there been a more complicated legacy in franchise history? A guy who twice led the majors in home runs, had fans chanting his name after the final game in 2015, with his free agency approaching, and suffering a decline so steep and swift that it became historic.

Here’s the moment that may stick with me longer than any other. Davis agreeing to a one-on-one interview with me, as he usually did, in August 2018 at Tropicana Field. Walking up the left field line before batting practice, music blaring over the public address system while a few Rays did some early hitting, and plopping down in a chair in the second row with a fan’s name inscribed on a tiny gold plate.

Davis was deliberate in choosing his spot and quipped that he wanted to become that guy, just for one day or even for a few minutes. An escape from being Chris Davis, the former slugger who couldn’t live up to his franchise-record contract and couldn’t tune out the booing, catcalls and vicious insults.

“It’s tough,” he said that day. “We all want to be loved, there’s no doubt about that. You want to be accepted by your fan base. Nobody wants to be ridiculed or criticized, but that’s not the world we live in, especially in this game. When there’s such emphasis put on winning and being successful and getting a leg up on the competition, people, they want to see results and I understand that. But I always think about this as kind of a way to keep me grounded.”

Theories abound on why Davis stopped hitting. His body broke down and the hip labrum surgery was the final straw. He was stubborn when it came to making changes, at least until it was too late. Defensive shifts stymied him. He trended like so many other power-hitting first basemen in their 30s. He needed glasses, which he disputed by telling me, “Believe it or not, every year in spring training my eyes check out at 20/10, which is two tiers better than what 20/20 is considered perfect. My eyesight is pretty damn good. If I needed to wear glasses I would have opted to rock the Chris Sabo look a long time ago.”

There’s also the theory that the contract suffocated him, which he knew wouldn’t elicit pity because it’s really hard to feel sorry for someone making $161 million.

“I think the first couple of years (the contract) was on my mind more than I really let on,” he said at The Trop. “I don’t try to hide anything. I’m pretty open with what’s going on as far as guys asking me what’s going through my head. I think the first couple of years it was on my mind. Not necessarily a burden but a responsibility that I felt, not only to my teammates, coaching staff, my friends and family, but our fans to uphold my end of the bargain. And it was and still is important to me to honor that commitment to the fullest out of respect for Peter Angelos.

“I didn’t know what free agency was going to look like. I had never been through it before. I knew that I wanted to stay in Baltimore. I didn’t know if it was going to be an option at the end of the season, and when it was all said and done I was so excited and almost relieved that I got to stay here. And looking back now, it’s crazy to think what I assumed it was going to be and what it really is. I mean, it’s been tough.”

It ended as it had to, with Davis retiring but not walking - or limping - away from the money owed to him. The Orioles got some relief in 2022 by deferring money rather than paying the lump sum.

The bad-hip dance is over. No more questions next spring about his health, whether there’s a role for him, how the Orioles will fit him on the roster, whether they want him on the roster. We always knew the answer to the last one. It feels like an amicable and necessary parting of ways.

The new regime inherited the contract and didn’t hide how it was a bad fit in a rebuild, as if that could be hidden. But the Orioles vowed to honor it. Davis came to them, knowing he couldn’t answer the bell when it rang next spring. Tired, we’ll assume, of trying. Happy to focus more on family, which always has been a huge priority in his life. The ultimate girl dad.

“That’s kind of a saving grace to me each and every day is you’re not always going to be dealt the best hand, but what are you willing to do with the hand that you’re dealt?” Davis said. “For me, it’s always just go out there and give it everything I have. But I’d be lying if I said the frustration and the negativity and just the overall lack of performance wasn’t weighing on me. I think it’s definitely taken a toll on me this year more than ever.”

Many fans will remember the good times with Davis, and there were plenty, including two major league home run titles, the “Crush” nickname, curtain calls, celebratory pies and playoff runs. Many won’t forgive him for the September 2014 suspension for taking Adderall without a therapeutic-use exemption, which he acquired in the past. The timing was especially bad with Manny Machado and Matt Wieters injured.

Davis was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and received therapeutic-use exemptions to take Adderall while he played for the Rangers, so it perplexed and frustrated the team that his application with the Orioles was turned down - and also that he continued to take it. He switched the following year to Vyvanse, a different form of stimulant medication that lasts longer in the system.

“I understand that was a mistake I may never stop paying for in the eyes of some people, not going through the steps to get reapproved for those couple of years,” he said. “I understand that. But the medication that I take doesn’t make me a great baseball player. The entire reason I started taking this was because life away from baseball was just kind of spiraling out of control and I had never really explored any avenues as far as being diagnosed.

“There was some pretty good certainty in a few of my school teachers when I was younger that I had ADHD, just because, I mean, I’m the poster child for it. But my whole life, I had been able to go out and play baseball with no problem because it was almost like an escape. It was almost a place where I felt so in my skin that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting to do something earlier that day. So, the medication gets, in my opinion, a little too much power in some people’s eyes. And, yeah, it’s the same thing I’ve been taking for years. It’s the same thing, it’s made by the same guy. It’s just under a different name.

“I’ve had success years I didn’t take anything, I’ve had success years I was on medication. That’s an easy fix to me if that was the case. If I thought that was the reason I was struggling, I’d do whatever I could to not have to worry about it. I just think that’s too much of an easy fix.”

We spent a few more minutes in those seats while the music threatened to drown out our conversation, a source of amusement for him. Maybe the most relaxed that he looked in a while. A temporary fix. Which he would have settled for at the plate.

Former Orioles pitcher and current MASN analyst Ben McDonald told Davis that players are paid backward, rewarded in free agency for past performance. Davis’ career is now behind him. View it and his Orioles Hall of Fame candidacy however you choose.

But I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face whenever some says he didn’t care. I know how much it ate away at him. And I’ll keep separating Davis the player from Davis the man.

One final story: I did a phone interview with Davis during the 2018 offseason while my father was in the hospital on the Eastern Shore. He must have heard about my family situation because he ended our conversation, his voice lowering, by expressing sympathy and offering prayers.

My dad passed away on Jan. 20, 2019. The first flowers that arrived at my mom’s house, with a beautiful card attached, came from Chris and Jill Davis. I have no idea how they got the address.

I continued to chronicle every 0-fer, every strikeout, every ball pulled into the shift with the left side of the infield wide open. And I never confused what he did between the lines with his life outside of them, which included a $3 million donation to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and his role as ambassador for the Casey Cares Foundation.

He became a bad power hitter. He never turned into a bad person.

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