With an abundance of top pitching prospects in the Braves system, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. That doesn't appear to be an issue for Bruce Zimmermann, who is off to a blistering start in his first full season as a professional.
The Atlanta southpaw allowed two hits and struck out nine over a career-high seven innings as Class A Rome blanked Asheville, 1-0, on Thursday night at State Mutual Stadium. The victory snapped a three-start winless streak for Zimmermann (4-2), who leads the South Atlantic League with 57 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings, an average of 11.3 per nine.
Despite those gaudy numbers, the 23-year-old is not out there trying to rack up the K's.
Video: Bruce Zimmermann strikes out ninth
"It's something that's been happening," Zimmermann said. "I don't go out there trying to strike guys out. If I did that, it would take away from my gameplan and probably cause me to be too fine. If the situation presents itself, then it's an obvious benefit to be able to get the strikeout rather than having them put the ball in play. But I'm out there trying to get guys out in four pitches or less."
Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer has been nothing short of thrilled with what he's seen from his hurler so far in 2018.
"Bruce has done a tremendous job so far," Meyer said. "He's so adept at changing speeds and isn't afraid to pitch inside with his fastball to both righties and lefties. He's got a plus change and a quality slider which makes it tough for hitters to square up on. He's been working ahead often and finishing and that's why you saw him get through seven on  pitches."
Gameday box score
Coming off his second double-digit strikeout game of the season, Zimmermann set down the first 10 Asheville hitters he faced. Casey Golden singled with two outs in the fourth inning and moved to second on a wild pitch before stealing third. He was stranded when Sean Bouchard was called out on strikes. Zimmermann retired the Tourists in order in the fifth and sixth, and took the mound for the seventh with a lead after being locked in a scoreless duel with Antonio Santos through six frames.
He allowed a leadoff single to Bret Boswell, who took second on his second wild pitch of the game. Bouchard earned the only walk against Zimmermann, which put runners at first and second, but Chad Spanberger grounded into an inning-ending double play on his 80th and final pitch of the game. The outing lowered his ERA to 2.38 and his opponents' batting average to .207.
"It was great to get through seven," the Baltimore native said. "[The pitchers] were on a restriction earlier this year and now we've got the green light to go deeper, so the seventh has been on my mind. In that situation [in the seventh], I was looking to get a ground ball to get us back in the dugout as quickly as possible and I knew the defense would have my back."
Atlanta's fifth-round pick in last year's Draft has emerged as yet another quality hurler in a system that is bursting with pitching. Even in an organization filled with top-ranked prospects like Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard, Zimmermann has caught the eye of Meyer.
"All of the guys who come through here are well aware of those who came before them," the former Major Leaguer said. "It's a great testament to our drafting. These guys come in and no matter what age, they're ready to pitch and compete. They're coachable and their makeup is through the roof. It makes my job much, much easier."
Brandon S. White struck out three over two perfect innings to collect his sixth save. Jean Carlos Encarnacion produced the only run on either side with a solo homer in the sixth.
Rehabbing a wrist injury that landed him on the disabled list, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson led off and collected two hits in the win.
"It was awesome to have him playing with us," Zimmermann said. "To see a big leaguer come in here and go about his business, you can learn from that. You take pointers on his work ethic and how he goes about things. But it was great having him back there at short and a lot of fun to play on the same field with him tonight."
Santos (0-5) scattered eight hits and allowed one run on eight hits and a walk with four strikeouts over a season-high seven innings.