The Orioles Thursday doubleheader against the Rays is going to have an extra fun local angle. The team announced early in the afternoon that Baltimore area native Bruce Zimmermann, acquired from the Braves in the Kevin Gausman trade two years ago, is the probable starter for the second game of the twin bill.
Zimmermann’s status as probable starter was announced along with several roster moves that did not involve Zimmermann. The Orioles also added relievers Branden Kline and Evan Phillips to the roster. Kline was born in Frederick and Phillips was born in Salisbury, so there will be a lot of Maryland-connected pitchers on the roster for today. Phillips is serving as the extra 29th man for the doubleheader.
The O’s designated Asher Wojciechowski for assignment in the process. Wojciechowski was a pleasant enough surprise in 2019, though he still finished with an ERA near 5. He hasn’t been able to tap into even that mediocrity in 2020, getting bounced from the rotation and not doing too great in the bullpen either. Tough break, but that’s the way it goes. Nobody needs a pitcher with a 6.81 ERA.
This move clears a 40-man roster spot to add Zimmermann later, as the 2017 fifth round pick is not on the 40-man yet. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kline optioned between games in order to open an active roster spot for Zimmermann, but that’s for the O’s to figure out in a few hours. Waiting means that if someone’s seriously injured in game 1, he can go on the injured list as the corresponding move.
I’d be happy to see a prospect in Zimmermann’s shoes getting to debut right now regardless. The Baltimore connection makes it extra fun. Zimmermann turned 25 in February, so he’s old for a prospect. This is the kind of guy who it’s good for the O’s to give a look against real MLB competition to find out if he might be in line for a future role or not.
He is not one of the O’s higher-ranked prospects. The MLB Pipeline top 30 Orioles list does not include Zimmermann at all. At Fangraphs, Zimmermann comes in at 25th. That’s lower than he was in February, when he came in at 18th, but subsequent trades and draft picks have dropped him below some newer guys. The scouting capsule on Zimmermann from that time was brief:
An athletic lefty with a four-pitch mix, Zimmerman is a fully baked, pitchability backend starter with a good slider.
“Pitchability” is another way to say that Zimmermann doesn’t have much velocity, so if he finds MLB success it’ll have to be in the classic “crafty lefty” mold. He is listed at 90-92 on his fastball, so he’s not quite as much of a soft-tosser as some other Orioles lefties, but he won’t be lighting up the radar guns either.
It was already an eventful year for Zimmermann, who did not get into the mix at the Orioles alternate training site until later than others because he is one of the more than 6.5 million Americans who are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Even arriving late, he’s done enough to at least get this audition in the final week and a half or so of the season.
Zimmermann was a $10,000 “senior sign” out of college. It is rare for someone drafted after four years of college to make it here. When the O’s acquired him in July 2018, he had already made it to Double-A. That’s where he started 2019, posting a 2.58 ERA in 18 games with Bowie. Also encouraging is that he struck out 101 batters in 101.1 innings. A seven-game Triple-A stint to close out the season didn’t go as well.
In ordinary circumstances, Zimmermann would have probably been pitching in the Norfolk rotation in 2020. If he looked good, he might have gotten a late-season call-up like this. If he didn’t, he would have just dropped off the list of possible future O’s rotation members. Now he gets to debut against the first place Rays. Good luck!
It’s a bummer that the circumstances of 2020 mean that family and friends from the area won’t be able to crash Camden Yards to see his debut. Hopefully anybody who wants to will at least be able to catch the game on TV, and hopefully they see him pitch well.