OAKLAND, Calif. — A day after blowing his third save opportunity of the season in a 5-4, walk-off loss Friday to the Oakland Athletics, Orioles closer Zach Britton wanted to get back on the mound as soon as possible.
“I hope we either have a huge lead or I have to opportunity to be out there,” Britton said. “I think the one thing about being a reliever is that you’re able to turn the page much quicker. You understand it’s one bad inning, and you just kind of move on. You make adjustments, and if the same situation comes in, you know how to attack it differently than I did last night.”
Britton failed to retire a batter in the ninth inning, and Oakland won on Josh Donaldson’s three-run homer to center field. Leadoff batter Yoenis Cespedes reached on a swinging bunt to third, and Brandon Moss hit a broken-bat, flare single to shallow right field.
Knowing Donaldson’s reputation as a patient hitter, Britton started him with a 95-mph sinker that Donaldson blasted for the game-winning homer.
Britton said he would have liked to have thrown the pitch more on the outer half than middle-in, but wanted to get ahead of Donaldson or maybe induce a double-play ball.
In taking over the closer role, Britton has relied on his heavy, mid-90s sinker, keeping the ball on the ground and allowing his defense to make plays behind him. He has thrown the sinker 92.6 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs.com, complementing it with his slider (7.4 percent).
Over the course of his career, mostly as a starter, Britton has thrown the sinker 72.7 percent of the time, leaning more on the slider (14.7 percent) and changeup (13.1 percent). But now, pitching in shorter spurts out of the bullpen, his sinker has become a more valuable weapon. His velocity is up from an average of 92.5 to 94.6 mph. And he has induced a remarkable number of ground balls with it: 77 percent this year, compared with 58.4 percent over his career.
So Britton doesn't plan on changing how he attacks hitters quite yet. It would be different if the A's were hitting line drives off him in the ninth Friday. But a bunt, bloop and a blast aren't going to force him to rework his arsenal.
“I think if I’m locating it and commanding it and locating it the way I want, the results are going to be the same, whether they’ve seen it 10 times or one time,” Britton said. But it’s all about command and working that pitch in and out and obviously using my off-speed, too. But I think you overcomplicate it when you try to do too much when, at the end of the day, hitters are hitters. ... You’ve just got to be a little more fine with your command.
“There have been guys who have been really successful going predominantly with fastballs for years,” Britton said. “I don’t think it’s something I’ve got to change. That will come in certain situations, but I think right now it’s about putting the pitch in the right spots of the zone.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun