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Orioles' Zach Britton still wants to start, but he's content with relief role

TAMPA, Fla. -- Zach Britton hasn’t been told yet that he will pitch out of the bullpen if he makes the Opening Day roster, but all signs point to the Orioles left-hander heading in that direction.

After a dominant one-inning performance Wednesday, when he needed just seven pitches to retire the Philadelphia Phillies in order, Britton is scheduled to pitch Friday on the road against the Minnesota Twins. That would be his fourth outing in 10 days, and he hasn’t pitched more than two innings in any game.

Britton has allowed just one earned run in seven innings this spring, striking out seven batters and walking two. On Wednesday, his trademark sinker sat at 95 mph.

“It felt good,” Britton said. “I just went after them. It was seven or eight pitches, all sinkers over the heart of the plate. Guess the velocity was really good, and that sinker, it was good. It’s good to see that. That’s how I used to feel, and it’s just a confidence booster every outing.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, however, wouldn’t count out the possibility of Britton still being used as a starter.

“We’re still going to look to get him multiple innings, so that if something happens between now and the end of spring that he’s an option for us as a starter also,” Showalter said. “So we’re still viewing him as a starter at this point. But you’re right. It does take on the appearance [of him being a reliever] right now.”

While Britton still believes he can contribute as a starter, especially since he said he’s the healthiest since his rookie season in 2011, he is prepared to settle into a relief role.

“My mind is still made up that if I’m throwing the way I’m throwing now, I can be an effective starter in the big leagues, and I’ve shown that I can do that when I’m healthy,” he said. “But at the same time, our five starters are pretty much set, and we know that.”

Since Britton is out of minor league options, he’s likely to make the team in some capacity because the Orioles don’t want to risk losing him.

Britton, one of 11 pitchers in major league camp who is out of options, also could draw significant trade interest. Showalter said other teams have taken notice, but if Britton is on the verge of a breakout, the Orioles want him to do that wearing their uniform.

“I think we had 16 scouts here [Wednesday],” Showalter said. “Everybody knows we have a lot of good pitchers who are out of options. And they’re all looking at us. In the past, I don’t remember that many being at our games. They’re not there to look at [rehabbing third baseman Manny] Machado.”

Norris struggles

Right-hander Bud Norris battled through early control issues and an untimely throwing error that led to an early exit in his third Grapefruit League start on Thursday afternoon in the Orioles’ 6-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

Norris, who hadn’t allowed a run in five previous innings this spring, last just 12/3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) and four hits. He actually limited the damage by allowing just one run during a 39-pitch first inning. After Carlos Beltran’s RBI single, he issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out, but escaped.

“It’s not really pretty sometime,” Norris said. “Any pitcher will tell you that. Like I said, you’re trying to get zeroes on the board, and to get away with only one run, like I said, it wasn’t pretty. But like I said, to keep a game close in the American League East, they’re going to have some bigger innings, but to put up one compared to a four-spot, is a big story. I was happy with the one, and I’ll go from there.”

After the Yankees went up, 2-0, on Brett Gardner’s one-out RBI double in the second inning, Norris made a costly miscue when he fielded a comebacker off the bat of Derek Jeter, looked to third base to get the lead runner but threw the ball away, allowing Gardner to score.

“He just got in a hurry,” Showalter said. “He didn’t have a good grip on the ball. You could tell it kind of rolled up his arm. He’s one of our better fielding pitchers, so I know that was frustrating for him. He could have gotten out of there with one or two runs in the outing.

“He ended up with 60 pitches in his outing, obviously more than we wanted him to throw. He was just missing. He had some borderline pitches that didn’t go his way, but that happens during the season, too. He’s better than that.”

Wieters ‘feels good’

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said his slightly sprained right ankle felt better Thursday, but he wasn’t certain whether he would take swings to test the ankle.

“It feels good today, but we probably won’t push it today,” Wieters said Thursday morning. “We’ll see how it is when it comes in. Hopefully when we get back home [to Sarasota], I’ll be back out there.”

Wieters hopes to return when the Orioles play their next home game on Saturday against the Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium.

“I don’t want to push anything and have a setback,” Wieters said, “but it feels good today, and if it keeps improving like it did today, tomorrow I don’t see a reason why I can’t take some swings and do something tomorrow.”

“We’ll see. I think we’re going to try to do as much treatment as we can today just to ramp up and try to get everything out of there we can.”

Wieters injured the ankle rounding third base Tuesday.

Around the horn

The Orioles were shut out for the first time this spring on Thursday. They had been averaging nine runs over their past eight games. … Center fielder Adam Jones is the new father of a boy born Wednesday in Baltimore. Showalter said he expects Jones to be back in the starting lineup Sunday. Jones left camp Tuesday. … There were no roster cuts Thursday. “You can take a breath,” Showalter said. “I actually went through the locker room today and told everybody they can treat me the way they used to treat me. I’m not coming in here looking for anybody.” At least one cut is expected Friday. … Right-hander Mike Wright, who was reassigned to minor league camp Sunday, complained of some elbow soreness recently, but threw two scoreless innings Thursday in a Triple-A game at Twin Lakes Park. … South Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon returned Thursday from Canada, where he went to get his work visa. He can now pitch in Grapefruit League games and is expected to make his debut Saturday. … Left-hander Brian Matusz left Thursday for Philadelphia to get a wart removed from his left middle finger. He is in line to make his next scheduled appearance in Monday’s 1:05 p.m. split-squad game on the road against the Phillies. Kevin Gausman, who allowed one run and one hit in one inning Thursday, is also set to pitch in that game. … Ubaldo Jimenez is scheduled to start Monday’s 7:05 p.m. split-squad game against the Twins at Ed Smith Stadium. That game will be broadcast on MASN. … The club is still trying to see if Machado can avoid flying to California for his appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache to get cleared to play in games.

eencina@baltsun.com

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Zach Britton hasn’t been told yet that he will pitch out of the bullpen if he makes the Opening Day roster, but all signs point to the Orioles left-hander heading in that direction.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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