When Bruce Zimmermann looks back on his Major League career, odds are good that Friday night at Angel Stadium will stand out in his memory — in particular, one especially dominant inning.
It was a strong outing overall for the 27-year-old left-hander, who threw six-plus innings in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Angels. It was the longest start of the year for Zimmermann, in which he matched his season high with six strikeouts while scattering five hits and walking one.
“I think he has a good feel for the ball right now,” said catcher Robinson Chirinos, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in his return to the lineup after taking a hit-by-pitch to the face on Wednesday. “He feels good on the mound and he’s throwing strikes, he’s getting ahead. And every time a pitcher does that, even against a really good team, he’s gonna have a good night.”
And Zimmermann’s night went from good to great in a perfect bottom of the fourth inning. That’s when he struck out three of the game’s most elite hitters in Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
“That 1-2-3 is a serious punch, so it’s definitely a challenge,” said Zimmermann. “But that’s what makes this game fun, is playing against guys like that.”
Manager Brandon Hyde stressed pregame that a key for Zimmermann — especially against righty-heavy lineups, like the Angels’ — is his changeup. But more than that, it’s Zimmermann’s ability to mix his pitches and keep hitters off-balance, like he did against the top of the Angels’ order in the fourth.
It started with Ohtani, whom Zimmermann had already struck out once to open the game. In that first meeting, Zimmermann got the two-way phenom swinging with the changeup. This time, he went to the slider, getting Ohtani swinging on one down and away for strike two before finishing the job with one slightly up in the zone. Zimmermann would strike Ohtani out one more time in the sixth, also via the slider — which, in a small sample size this year, has proven potent against lefties, of which Ohtani was the only one in the Angels’ lineup.
Then came Trout. For the three-time AL MVP, the curveball was the putaway pitch, set up by a four-seamer and then a changeup. The 2-2 down-and-in curve got Trout swinging. Opponents still have not gotten a hit off Zimmermann’s curveball this year, his best pitch by whiff rate in 2021.
Rendon, meanwhile, saw every pitch in Zimmermann’s arsenal, but ultimately went down swinging on a changeup below the zone. It was one of 22 changeups Zimmermann threw on the night, and he picked up five of his 12 whiffs with it.
“He’s good,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon. “He really changes speeds well. He keeps the ball down. He really changes speeds well and I think there’s some deception in it. He’s not going to throw at a high-velocity number, but he’s going to be hard to hit. That was not a fluke. I saw his numbers coming in. When I was watching him warm up, I really didn’t like it because I thought he warmed up really well. I liked the way the ball was coming out of [his] hand. Very confident. He pitched well. It wasn’t good for us, but it was good for him.”
Although Friday marked the first time Zimmermann pitched into the seventh inning in his young career, he didn’t get very far into the frame. This time, Trout and Rendon got to him, with Trout drawing a walk and Rendon homering to chase Zimmermann with none out. It was the first time this year Zimmermann had allowed earned runs, after 15 innings pitched. His ERA after three starts is 1.20.
“We’re just really happy with the results so far,” said Zimmermann. “I’ve been able to attack the zone throughout every game so far, rely on defense a little bit, get my strikeouts where I can get them. Limited the walks tonight, still shouldn’t have had that last one to Trout. But other than that, just really happy with the amount of time we were in the zone, how we’re mixing and switching, and how we’re able to keep guys off-balance, so a lot of credit goes to Robby on that as well. We were really on the same page tonight.”