• Feb

    Now that Britton is healthy, command is key

    Through his first 16 starts of his professional career, Zach Britton looked to be fulfilling his immense potential right off the bat. The left-handed with the hard sinking fastball was 6-6, but put up an impressive 3.38 ERA while holding batters to a .668 OPS.

    Once July hit though, the 23-year old started to feel some discomfort in his left shoulder but believing it was nothing more than some general soreness, he pitched through it. But something was not right. On July 8th against the Red Sox, Britton failed to get out of the first innings allowing eight runs (seven earned) on six hits and two walks while recording just two outs in 41 pitches.

    Britton was dispatched to the minors and after a few starts at Bowie and Norfolk, he returned to the Orioles on July 30th against the Yankees where things got worse. Britton retired just one Yankee in 42 pitches allowing nine runs (6 earned) on seven hits and a walk. In back to back starts, Britton had failed to get out of the first innings allowing a combined 17 runs (13 earned) on 13 hits and three walks while watching his ERA soar from 3.47 to 4.56.

    Despite the disastrous return, the shoulder calmed down a bit and over his next seven starts he went 5-2 with a 3.57 ERA. However, two starts later the shoulder discomfort returned and he was shut down for the season after his September 17th start.

    It was hoped that an offseason of rest would settle things down but once Britton started back up last spring, it was clear the discomfort was still there. After visiting Dr. James Andrews who found nothing but typical wear and tear of a pitcher, Britton accepted Andrews suggested course of action and underwent two injections of platelet-rich plasma.

    The Orioles placed him on the disabled list to start the year and he didn’t pitch until late May where he made three rehab starts at Bowie. The Orioles then optioned him to Norfolk where he made a few starts before making his first major league start of 2012 on July 17th against Minnesota. Britton’s velocity was back to normal and his slider may have actually gotten sharper and deeper, but his command was nowhere to be found as he walked six and had to be removed after allowing four runs in four innings in 100 pitches.

    After five starts, in which he put up a 8.10 ERA while walking 16 in 23.1 innings, the Orioles sent him back to Norfolk. Luckily for Britton though, the Orioles needed another starter due to injuries and brought him back up on August 18th where he shut out the Tigers over seven innings. In fact, over the next four starts Britton was dominant going 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA while striking out 29 and walking just seven in 28.2 innings.

    However, the wildness returned and over his two starts of the season he walked nine in seven and third innings and was removed from the rotation for the rest of the year.

    Unlike the year before though, Britton spent this off season working out and was able to throw pain free. He comes into this season with a chance for a spot in the rotation, but most importantly, for the first time since 2011, he comes in prepared both mentally and physically to compete.

    Command is the key for the southpaw. His hard sinker will get his groundballs and his sweeping slider will continue to give batters fits as long as he’s commanding them both. In fact, his slider can be a plus-plus pitch at times as batters whiffed on the pitch 50.65% of the time they swung at it and hit just .086 off the pitch. He lost command and confidence of his changeup last year  as well throwing it for a strike only 49% and only 9% of the time overall.  Batters hit just .222 off the pitch and so that will be an important pitch for him to have confidence in as well.

    If Britton’s command is back on track this spring, he’s going to make it awfully hard for the Orioles to keep him out of the rotation on 2013.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.