Jeff Zimmerman pitches.
The Rangers have arrived in the Phoenix area, set to start a three-game series
with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, 11 miles west along I-10 and another 12 miles
north on State Highway 101, in a game that’s going on right now, the Arizona
League Mariners have a 9-2 lead on the Arizona League Rangers. Among the notable subplots have been the pro
debut of precocious 16-year-old righthander Richard Alvarez (3-3-3-3-3-4) and
the pro pitching debut of former infielder Johan Yan (1.2-3-5-5-6-3 – and it
was no mop-up appearance . . . the transition to the mound is in full throttle).
But the debut I was most interested in was not really a
debut, though I’m sure to Jeff Zimmerman it felt a little bit like the first
time he’d taken the mound for the High A Port Charlotte in April 1998, as a 25-year-old
minor league rookie facing a league full of 21-year-olds. Tonight, Zimmerman was a 36-year-old facing
hitters half his age. Really: half his age.
Or, in 17-year-old Rangers second baseman Alex Gonzalez’s
case, less than that.
In the first inning, Zimmerman, making his first pro
appearance of any kind since 2003, when he pitched three times in the same
Arizona League trying to get back to the big leagues after two years of elbows
problems, allowed a Joseph Bonadonna single and stolen base, coaxed a Tomas
Telis groundout, surrendered an opposite field RBI single off the bat of Justin
Smoak, walked Miguel Velazquez, fanned Ed Koncel, and got Edwin Garcia to pop
Alvarez, who had just turned nine years old when, on October
1, 2001, Zimmerman fired a 1-2 slider that John Olerud hit back to the mound before
loping toward first base as Zimmerman fired the ball to Carlos Pena to lock
down a 4-3 Rangers win over Seattle for his 28th save, retired the
2009 teenaged Mariners quietly in the bottom of the first: flyout to center,
popout to second, infield single, strikeout swinging.
Zimmerman came back out for the second, and on deck stood
Ruben Sierra Jr., whose father had pinch-hit in the top of the ninth inning of that
October 2001 season finale, grounding out to second in what was at the time a
3-3 tie. In what would be his second and
final inning of work tonight, Zimmerman got Braxton Lane to line out to shortstop, coaxed
a Sierra groundout to third, and, after Gonzalez had reached on an error and
stolen second, struck Bonadonna out to end the frame.
It wouldn’t surprise me, all things considered, if someone
from the Rangers’ big league traveling party made it over to Peoria tonight, if for no other reason than
to get a look at Smoak as he returns from the oblique injury that cost him
nearly a month of playing time. If there
was in fact someone from the big club or front office who got there in time for
the top of the first, I suspect the Smoak shot to left quietly put a smile on
But probably nothing like the discreet smile I imagine is on
the face of Jeff Zimmerman, whose tightly Ace-bandaged postgame icepack will probably
feel as majestic as a steak dinner at Nick & Sam’s, a Sunday afternoon nap
on the couch, or a scoreless seventh inning in the All-Star Game at Fenway Park
as a 26-year-old rookie middle reliever.