NORTH PORT, Fla. — When looking back at his 2023 season now, Bruce Zimmermann can’t help but see the warning signs that something wasn’t right.

He made it through the whole season, spending most of his time in Triple-A with seven appearances in the majors, but admittedly did not feel his best. He started to feel discomfort in July in his core, and a cortisone shot provided him the cover to get through the rest of the season.

Zimmermann had core surgery when the season ended, setting back his offseason timeline but providing an aha moment. He’s stronger now, he said, and his velocity has ticked up. Perhaps that discomfort he was feeling was impacting him more than he thought at the time.

“It really just improved my ability to pitch athletically again,” he said of the surgery. “Definitely had some limitations looking back on the last year.”

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Zimmermann couldn’t lift weights until December, and he didn’t throw until early January. He is about a month behind where he normally would be at this point in the spring, and he had only a few live bullpen sessions before he took the mound Friday for his first Grapefruit League start. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Braves, allowing two hits.

“It felt good,” he said. “I’m taking each start as it comes, just trying to build off each one. Obviously, results are really important, but with the limited amount of reps I was able to take with the rehab, I was really happy with that one.”

Zimmermann is building up in camp as a starter, the role he’s primarily held in the minors. He made 26 starts for the Orioles in 2021 and 2022, but last year all seven of his major league appearances came out of the bullpen.

Zimmermann, a Baltimore native who grew up going to games at Camden Yards, likely will not be a part of the opening day rotation. But he could sneak his way into the bullpen with a solid showing this spring.

With John Means and Kyle Bradish out to start the season, the Orioles are expected to pull Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin into their rotation, opening two potential bullpen spots. Zimmermann could fill one, especially if they are looking for a long reliever.

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Zimmermann has one option left, which means the team can shuttle him back and forth to Triple-A without kicking him off the 40-man roster.

“You never want to see a teammate go down or whatever, but the name of this game is stepping up,” he said. “[Manager Brandon] Hyde always says you need 30, 35 guys to win a championship. If I can be one of those guys earlier than expected and break with the team, I definitely want to do it for my own career and for the team.”

Wells makes first spring start

Wells was more disciplined than ever during the offseason, putting together a routine of lifting, running and throwing, with an emphasis on his nutrition too. On Friday, he got his first glimpse at what all that work was for.

He pitched two innings for the Orioles, allowing one hit.

“No. 1 goal for me today was to go out there and throw strikes and just continue to stay healthy,” he said. “I think it’s a good way to start off spring training and set the pace for the year.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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