Lost and found: Zimmer makes surprise comeback with Indians

CLEVELAND (AP) — Seemingly lost, somewhat forgotten, Bradley Zimmer has found his way back to the Cleveland Indians.

Sidelined by injuries for most of the past two seasons, Zimmer has put himself in position to not only make Cleveland’s roster but also be a part of manager Terry Francona’s regular lineup.

The 27-year-old started in left field in Monday night’s exhibition against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it’s not much of a reach to think he might be there again Friday when the Indians open this COVID-19-delayed 2020 season against the Kansas City Royals.

It’s an impressive turnaround for the physically gifted Zimmer, who probably would be at Triple-A Columbus if not for this shortened season and a few other scenarios that have gone his way.

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Zimmer is batting .556 (10 of 18) with four homers and seven RBIs in eight intrasquad games. On Monday, he went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI in the Indians’ 11-7 win.

Francona said seeing Zimmer thrive in his comeback has been beyond what he or the Indians could have expected.

“We’ve been hoping” he said. “We’ve said all along we love what’s in there. He can impact the game just about anywhere. We were concerned about his amount of at-bats. He hasn’t played really a lot in two years. That still worries us some. But I don’t know how else to fix that this year. We’re going off what we’re going off of.”

Zimmer’s chance of emerging from a crowded outfield mix has been helped by Delino DeShields being slowed after contracting the coronavirus and Jordan Luplow’s back issue.

A first-round draft pick in 2014, Zimmer broke in with the Indians in 2017 and played 101 games. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder was quickly nicknamed “Machine” by his teammates, who were awed by his speed on the bases and in the outfield gaps.

But his bright future hit a serious nag in 2018, when a torn labrum in his right shoulder required surgery that would sideline Zimmer for nearly a year.

He spent most of last season in Arizona rehabbing before being called up for nine games in September. When camp opened this past February, Zimmer was considered a long shot, at best, to make Cleveland’s opening-day roster mainly because the team wanted to ease him back by getting him more playing time in the minors.

The pandemic changed those plans, and Zimmer’s performance so far this summer has forced the Indians to re-think their outfield alignment.

“I’m not going to lie,” Zimmer said after hitting two home runs off Mike Clevinger in a recent scrimmage. “I’m feeling really good. This is honestly what I expected. Probably coming in here a lot of people, honestly, haven’t really looked at me as an option. I’ve probably been overlooked.

“But in my mind, through the quarantine and all that giving me more time to get ready to prove I’m here for a reason. At this point, I’m just playing. I’m just happy to be playing baseball again.”

Zimmer radically changed his batting stance, and the results have been eye-popping. Instead of being hunched over, he’s standing taller in the batter’s box, allowing Zimmer’s hands to get through the strike zone more quickly.

Clevinger has always been impressed by Zimmer’s imposing physique, and now he’s got a swing to match it.

“Zim looks like an Avatar. He is a Avatar,” Clevinger said, referring to the fictional alien-like film creature. ”The way he changed his stance, you can’t just beat him up and in like you used to. We used to talk about it in Triple-A. You used to be able to beat him all day inside with high heaters in the strike zone because he couldn’t get to it because of how long he is.

“By bringing his arms in and getting to his legs, because he’s all legs, he’s going to be a dangerous, dangerous player with that speed.”

Francona agreed with Clevinger’s scouting report.

“I didn’t even know Clev watched him hit. I’m glad,” he said. “Zim has changed his stance and although it looks a little unorthodox with his hands, he’s able to get himself in a position where he can use his tools. That’s the best way I can put it. He’s getting himself in a launch position, or a ready position really well. So, he’s able to use the tools that are given to him, rather than them being inhibitors.”

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