Bruce Zimmermann once pitched at Camden Yards in the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game as a senior at Loyola Blakefield.
Less than 10 years later, Zimmermann was on that same mound as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Woodstock, Md., native has worked tirelessly to attain the goal of pitching for his hometown team. The 6-foot-1 left-hander turned heads throughout the organization with an impressive spring training and broke camp as the club’s third starter behind John Means and Matt Harvey.
“It was awesome,” Zimmermann said of being named to the rotation. “I had a feeling I was going to make the roster. Being named the No. 3 starter is a great honor, and I’m ecstatic about it. I’m really looking forward to going out and competing with the guys. It was a special moment calling my family members and telling my friends. It means a lot, and I’m looking forward to continuing into the regular season and pitching well.”
Zimmermann, 26, made his first big-league career start on Sept. 17, 2020 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing five runs on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts in three innings. He struck out Tampa Bay’s Nate Lowe in the first inning for the first strikeout of his career.
He appeared in two games with the Orioles in 2020, allowing six runs in his seven innings of work. There were some questions about his role heading into spring training in 2021. The team considered using him out of the bullpen, and he also has minor-league options.
However, manager Brandon Hyde had an easy decision after Zimmermann’s impressive spring, during which he allowed just 10 hits in 13.1 innings during Grapefruit League play. He had 13 strikeouts and just three walks. That command put him in a position to take over a starting role, especially with fellow lefty Keegan Akin enduring some growing pains during the spring.
Zimmermann pitched six innings of three-run ball against the Boston Red Sox April 4 to earn his first big-league win.
“I really like his stuff,” Hyde said of Zimmermann before the end of spring training. “I think this guy’s a four-pitch guy. He’s pounded the strike zone all spring, his velocity’s ticked up, his breaking balls have been sharper, and he’s healthy and ready to go. So he’s earned it with how he’s pitched this spring and looking forward to watching him pitch.”
The Orioles have a lot of positive storylines to follow this season with Trey Mancini’s recovery from colon cancer and the emergence of several young players who are trying to seize key roles. Zimmermann has also created excitement as the rare player who’s able to compete for his hometown club.
“Through and through, I grew up definitely as an Orioles fan,” Zimmermann said. “As long as I can remember, coming to Camden Yards with my dad, wanting to be the Orioles at the local rec league.”
Zimmermann was a standout pitcher locally for Loyola Blakefield. His high school coach, Jimmy Crowley, remembers how Zimmermann evolved from a smaller 10th-grader to one of the best pitchers in the area.
“He had great baseball instincts, a strong work ethic and a desire to win,” Crowley said. “You put those characteristics on a guy with some God-given abilities and good things usually happen. As a pitcher, he had the ability to throw three pitches for strikes. Many people may not be aware, but he was also a very good hitter. When he wasn’t pitching, we always tried to keep his bat in the middle of the lineup.”
Crowley, whose father, Terry Crowley, played 12 seasons with the Orioles, fully understands what it takes to move through the ranks and become a professional player. In 1987, Jimmy Crowley was named the 1987 Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year in Maryland for Dulaney High School. In college, he was a three-time All-ACC selection and All-American at Clemson University.
Crowley was drafted in the 11th round by the Red Sox in 1991 and spent four seasons with their minor-league affiliates. He spent his final minor-league season with Orioles affiliates — Triple-A Rochester and Double-A Bowie.
“I had the unique opportunity to see some of the best players in the game and know how hard and competitive it is with players from around the world,” Crowley said. “So, I certainly saw the potential was there for Bruce but also recognized how hard it is to make it to the professional level.”
After graduating from Loyola in 2013, Zimmermann spent his freshman and sophomore years of college at Towson University before transferring to Division II Mount Olive College in North Carolina for his junior and senior years.
He went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA as the Friday starter during his senior year at Mount Olive in 2017. He also had 129 strikeouts, which tied the program’s single-season record originally set by former major-league pitcher Carter Capps.
Zimmermann was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He pitched at three minor-league levels with the Braves until the Orioles acquired him as part of the July 2018 trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta.
Zimmermann found his footing in the Orioles’ organization in 2019, when he went 7-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 140 innings for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He struck out 134 hitters and walked 52.
Now, Zimmermann has an opportunity to play a key role in the future of the rebuilding club, and he’s looking to make an immediate impact in 2021.
“It’s going to be special to finally hear that Camden ‘O’ with fans in the stands for the first time,” Zimmermann said prior to the start of the 2021 season, “[and] being on the field instead of being one of the ones yelling it.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles