Zach Britton

Orioles starting pitcher Zach Britton (David Manning / USA Today Sports / February 28, 2014)

I thought one of the more intriguing stories heading into this spring was what the Orioles would do with lefty Zach Britton, who is out of minor league options.

I’m thinking the intrigue is over now.

Britton was supposed to battle for a spot in the starting rotation. Orioles manager Buck Showalter still isn’t officially ruling him out for that role at this point.

But when the club signed Ubaldo Jimenez, Britton’s battle for the rotation was basically over. Britton said earlier this spring he talked with new pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti about a program that would ready him for the bullpen.

And he is in that now.

He was supposed to get one relief inning Friday but, after pitching three times in six days, Britton was a little fatigued and the Orioles decided to push him back to Saturday.

His last appearance came on Wednesday, when he ripped through three good Philadelphia Phillies hitters – Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown – striking out two. He looked absolutely nasty – like his first-month-of-2011 nasty.

The Orioles won’t say it. They probably won’t make it official until their final exhibition game in Norfolk, Va., on March 29.

But, the way I see it, Britton already has made this team as a left-handed reliever.

It’s hard to put together a 25-man roster right now that doesn’t include him, especially knowing he is without minor league options and would have to pass through waivers to be sent down again.

No way a mid-20s lefty who throws in the 90s with the occasional bowling-ball sinker gets through waivers.

This, though, is also about Britton accepting a challenge, rising to the occasion and not psyching himself out.

Britton knows no other organization. He wants to succeed for the Orioles. But last September he looked like a different guy – not nearly as confident in himself and his pitches. And it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the club had dealt him in the offseason, or when they acquired Jimenez.

Troy Patton’s suspension opens up a spot for another lefty in the bullpen. And now Britton’s opening up eyes again in this organization.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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