Zach Britton came into the spring knowing his career was at a crossroads. He was out of options on a team loaded with major league quality depth, and with his past inconsistencies, there was a good chance the Orioles would be forced to move on. Whether he was claimed on waivers by another team or the Orioles had worked out a deal, it looked inevitable his days in an Orioles uniform were numbered. However, after a impressive spring, Britton may be developing into a key piece of the bullpen.
With a mid-90’s sinker, it has never been a question of stuff, but he has struggled to harness that raw ability over his three seasons as an Oriole. The former third-round pick debuted in 2011 and pitched to a 4.61 ERA in twenty-eight starts; a relatively respectable ERA for a twenty-three year old. However, over the next two years Britton seemed to regress, and found himself on the shuttle back-and-forth to Norfolk. Last season, in eight games for the Orioles Britton posted a 4.95 ERA, but it was the 17 walks to 18 strikeouts that were really concerning. He looked over-whelmed and out-of-place on the mound.
However, Britton has been a different pitcher this spring. He looks physically stronger and his mechanics have been exceptionally more consistent. With his fastball consistently in the upper 90’s and his slider looking sharp, Britton has pitched to an ERA of 0.84 in just under eleven innings. He has also increased his strikeouts ratio rate to over one an inning. It’s a small sample size but there’s no denying he has been impressive, and it’s exactly the spring he needed to force his way onto the roster.
The Orioles have had success in recent years converting starters into relievers. Both Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz struggled to find consistency as starters and eventually found themselves out of the rotation. However, in the bullpen, both pitchers saw significant increases in velocity and above all looked tremendously more confident. The Orioles could be seeing the same results this spring in Britton. With the additions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon, Britton probably never had a legitimate shot at the rotation; but with his impressive spring he could be a valuable member of the bullpen when the team heads north. It’s still only March, but with his high-90’s sinker, the Orioles may have found a useful late-innings power-arm.