Numbers turned Zimmerman from long shot to sure shot

Torre refused to overlook Rangers rookie reliever

All-Star notebook

July 13, 1999|By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck | Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Can there be a more unlikely All-Star than Texas Rangers pitcher Jeff Zimmerman?

Check the history of this mid-summer classic and you won't find many rookie middle relievers, especially those who were pitching in Single-A last season and in two other countries before that.

So what's he doing here, sitting among baseball's elite? Judging by his numbers, he's blending in nicely.

Zimmerman has been crucial to the Rangers' success this season, going 8-0 with one save and a 0.86 ERA in 35 appearances. He's allowed 18 hits in 52 1/3 innings, walking 11 and striking out 46. Opponents are hitting .106 against him.

Where else should he be except Fenway Park?

Zimmerman, a Vancouver, British Columbia, native who turns 27 next month, previously had counted his promotion to Double-A last season as the highlight of a career that included his professional debut with Winnipeg of the independent Northern League in 1997, and earlier stints with the Canadian national team and a club in France.

"I almost gave up the game in '96," said Zimmerman, the fourth reliever to be named an All-Star with fewer than five saves. "I was looking for a job in Calgary, firing my resume left and right, but then I thought I'd give baseball another shot. I realized after four months that I loved baseball too much to give it up. I just hoped it wasn't too late."

Zimmerman was sitting at his locker in Texas when manager Johnny Oates brought the news of his selection.

"I had been sick for three days," he said. "I was changing my clothes when Johnny came up to me and sat down. He's never really done that before, talk to me one-on-one. He said, `Congratulations, you're going to the All-Star Game,' and I almost hit the roof. I thought he was just coming over to see if I was feeling any better and able to pitch that day, but he dropped that bomb on me and it was a very emotional moment for me."

Asked what he saw in Zimmerman, AL manager Joe Torre said: "I saw more than my players did when they were trying to hit him.

"I guess what called my attention to Jeff Zimmerman is [Mariano] Rivera in the '96 season, when he was holding a similar role and didn't make the All-Star team. I guess that's what got my attention more than anything. Plus the stats. It's hard to ignore that, even though you don't start or finish a ballgame. I think a manager understands how important it is to bridge that gap between starter and short man."

Zimmerman used to be the odd man out. Now he's an All-Star.

Mussina won't guess future

With the July 31 trade deadline approaching and his club at the bottom of the AL East standings, Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina said he's not sure whether veterans will be dealt and young prospects moved in their place.

"We finally have some young players who are reaching the upper levels of the minors and having a chance to come up and show what they have," he said. "As far as taking the team apart this year, I can never predict what anybody's going to do. There were other years when I thought [owner Peter Angelos] was going to take the team apart and he didn't. And the one year he didn't [1996], we ended up in the playoffs.

"I love the guys I play with and would hate to see us ripped apart for that reason, but business is business. We'll have to wait and see."

A Cleveland reporter suggested that Mussina could become the No. 1 starter the Indians have craved for many years.

"I have no idea," Mussina said. "I've been in Baltimore my whole career and would love to stay in Baltimore the rest of my career, so it would take something quite unique for me to even consider leaving."

Baines on trade rumors

Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines has heard the rumors that he might be traded to a contender, but he insists that he already is playing in the city where he wants to play.

He said he would not resist a trade "as long as it is to a place where I could get a [World Series] ring, but I would prefer to stay in Baltimore."

Baines does not have veto power over a deal, but it seems unlikely that the Orioles would trade him. He is one of the major bright spots on a beleaguered club and probably would not bring a major prospect in trade.

Power top to bottom

How good is the AL lineup? Cleveland's Roberto Alomar, an MVP candidate who's hitting .324 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs, is batting ninth.

"To be part of this is all that counts," said Alomar, who was named MVP of last year's game while representing the Orioles. "It doesn't matter if I'm first, eighth or ninth. I've just got to go out and try to do the best I can."

Alomar is among four Indians in the lineup. Former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, who signed with Texas as a free agent last winter, will serve as the designated hitter in place of injured Jose Canseco. And Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra has insisted on playing despite missing the past nine games with a strained groin.

New York's Derek Jeter, who was beaten out for the starting spot by a late rush of votes for Garciaparra, didn't seem to mind.

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