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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Orioles Q&A: Bruce Zimmerman uses injury from rookie season to improve turnaround, start strong into 2022

The combination of bicep tendinitis and a sprained ankle kept the Orioles left-hander Bruce Zimmermann on the injured list for more than three months of their 2021 rookie season. But that time allowed him to make a correction that saw him experience early-season success.

Zimmerman, who will start the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader with the Kansas City Royals, has a 2.59 ERA through five starts, a point that was even better than the three extra earned runs on his record before the scoring change. Nevertheless, he is off to a strong start to his second major league season, mainly by building on the areas he succeeded as a rookie, particularly on his secondary pitches.

According to Baseball Savant, of the pitchers to have thrown at least 100 breaking balls in 2022, Zimmerman is one of only two who have not yet allowed a hit on one of them. Two-thirds of at-bats finished with a slider have resulted in a strikeout, with a 57.6% whiff rate of that pitch – the percentage of swings that result in misses – ranked fourth among nearly 200 sliders who have made at least 25 swings. and most of all left handed people.

His sliders and curveballs have combined for 32% of his pitches, matching his 2021 usage. Still, he has deployed his four-seam fastball 10% less often, reducing the use of the hard-hit pitch in 2021; Zimmerman’s .711 slugging percentage allowed on the pitch was the highest ever thrown by any major league four-seamer. The trend continued into 2022, with opponents hitting .480 off the pitch, an average of about 1 mph slower than the previous season.

He has funneled some of his use of the four-seamer to a change he has worked to improve upon during biceps injury rehabilitation, while the one-seam fastball – a pitch with a profile similar to that of a sinker – has to added to the repertoire. The former has been a neutral; Entering Saturday, only one left-handed batsman has hit more right-handers with a change than Zimmerman.

A 27-year-old native of Ellicott City, Zimmerman is one of the few pieces from the Orioles 2018 trade barrage to have established themselves in the majors; He was part of a package received from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Kevin Gossman and Darren O’Day. Earlier this week, Zimmerman spoke with The Baltimore Sun about his shift adjustments, why he felt he was needed and why his secondary pitches play so well with his struggling fastball.

Note: Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

You’ve talked a bit about how you spent some time before this season working on your transformation after the start. Why was that pitch the focus for you, and what changes did you make?

Traditionally, I was always a two-seam fastball guy, throughout college and halfway through the minors, and then I switched to four-seam fastball. Analytically speaking, it was playing better than my two-seam, so even when it did, I wanted to keep my two-seam grip on my changeup because I liked the depth I got because it took more ground. The ball generated, it had more sink. All good stuff for double play, other than runs, and what not. Then, because I was throwing my four-seam [fastball] And then a two-seam change, it was kind of a blending between the two, and I was losing the depth I needed on my change to make it that kind of pitch, ’cause it’s a huge speed difference. Not there [from my fastball]That’s why I need that action to be as successful as it is.

When I was in rehab for biceps tendinitis last year, there was a time when I was just playing catch, and I remember circling with different wrist positions. The grip is not changing. Just changing the position of the wrist, and clicking something that I changed gave me depth in my transformation. I took it in the offseason and started working to really finalize the difference in how I was manipulating the ball at release between the fore-seam and the changeup to really take the ride and sink. get the difference between. Then, the end of spring training, the start of this season, revealed something else with the placement of my one finger on one of the kind of fingers, and it seemed to give me even more protection for what I actually threw. There was even more intention, because it’s kind of a high-spinning changeup. [Note: Entering Saturday, the average major league changeup has a spin rate of 1,738 rpm this season, while Zimmermann’s has a spin rate of 2,022 rpm, 12th among 96 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 changeups.] With the wrist position detecting the last little bit about the finger’s location, it is capable of producing the kind of pitch that is now different from years past and why it has a late life.

What do you understand by wrist position?

Usually when you throw a four-seam fastball, you want to throw it with a 90-degree angle. [between your hand and forearm], so that you can go behind it and you can push it and you can backspin it really well. When I was doing this with my changeup, it was leveling it, and it was kind of on the running arm side, and so it was basically staying in the barrel zone. Whether it came off the end of the bat or – it was in the barrel zone. Instead of feeling it, I tried to lay it flat—and through it, keeping my wrist flat, and keeping that flat wrist allows me to get a two-seam action. It just allows me to get inside the ball with more force and spin on the right axis, not just run.

So it was all just a product of playing catch?

Literally just stumbled upon it during catch play, just messing around. Everyone does this during catch play. This is what happens when you test new things about what you may or may not be feeling. I happened to run into this during my rehab last year when I really had to focus on making every catch worth playing because I couldn’t go out and throw as long as I wanted at the time. It was definitely something I zeroed in on, and then just built on it through the off season, keeping it strong, and making sure it was the real deal, and obviously, another tweak in the spring. A little bit happened. Year. Overall, this has always been my most-feeling pitch. But still, it is a work in progress. Anything to improve the pitch, I’m interested in.

What exactly was that spring tweezers?

It was a slightly different position of the ring finger on a seam in front of the ball, so it gives me a little more ball protection to not baby the pitch and actually rip it through the zone as much as the fastball intended. I think one of the reasons why it’s so successful is the arm speed sales. I try to keep it the same as the fastball until it’s on the plate.

Looking at just your Statcast data, all three of your secondary pitches have had a lot of success, but you’ve struggled with your fastballs, both last season and this one. why do you think so?

I find that as a pitcher, personally speaking, I tunnel all my pitches pretty well. In the past, I’ve definitely worked harder with fastballs and gotten better results. It’s always been something I fiddle with, and it’ll probably be something I address to get that Velo back in the offseason, but I think the tunnel is probably the biggest thing. Guys think it’s the four-seam heater, and then I have the curveball, I have a changeover that pops off, and the slider in particular keeps the same line as my fastball until its late on Don’t take a break. Then the damage on the heater, I think honestly, came from more bad places than the pitch, and it was something we talked about with pitching coaches and addressed this year, yes, the usage is low, but When I do use it, I’m using it more effectively this year. It’s hit a couple of times, but overall, my goal with this this year is to really try not to replace it. I got what I just got this year.

Obviously, the other offspeed pitches are, I think, all better than last year. It’s definitely an added advantage, so the limited use I’m using the heater for right now is just to be better with finding it, which I assume is a typical progression of a starting pitcher in the big leagues. You just have to find a place to get better every year, and I think mine is definitely not so much a fastball command, but just execution. That’s why I started adding in a one-seam to give the heater a different look, so in the heater count, not only can they sit at offspeed, they can’t sit upright on the heater anymore, so it’s definitely There is something that is trickling into the usage pattern right now.

What does a one-seamer add for you?

It’s really just another word for a two-seamer. But this is not the traditional grip for a two-seam that people would normally throw. It’s called a seam because when it spins, you really only see a seam and its pattern and bald spots on the side of the ball or where you spin will cause it to sink and drop and score fewer runs. Yes, and it’s too late. It’s roughly the same speed as my four-seam, but has a two-seam profile.

Tunneling and spin rate are clearly incorporated into modern pitching terminology. How did you become interested in and understand these types of concepts?

This was probably the first one I was introduced to when I went to the Orioles. A little with the Braves. They were definitely ahead of the Orioles when I was traded. But maybe the spring training of 2019, that was the first time they told me about moving to a four-seam, explaining why, with spin rate and axle, I throw it and everything else, and again, it’s kind Was just a progressive education on the analysis of pitching.


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