OAKLAND, Calif. — When Zach Britton left the Orioles in March, he felt like he wasn't in a situation in which he could succeed in the majors.
The 25-year-old left-hander believed he needed to go the minors and recapture what made him so effective when he first arrived in Baltimore in 2011. For the most part that meant regaining the feel and command of his heavy sinkerball.
"I needed to get back to what I did best, throw the sinkerball. And that's what I kind of got back to down at Norfolk," said Britton, who was promoted from Triple-A on Thursday to, at least initially, provide bullpen depth. "Figuring out what kind of pitcher I am and getting back to what got me to the big leagues and what made me successful in the past. And that's getting ground balls."
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Britton said he threw more than 80 percent sinkers in his 13 2/3 innings at Triple-A. The results were pretty convincing: a 1-0 record and a 1.98 ERA in three starts. After his initial outing in which he dealt with a blister on his left thumb and walked four in two innings, Britton pitched well in his next two appearances.
In 11 2/3 innings in those games, Britton recorded 28 outs on the ground, four by strikeout and none in the air while allowing just two earned runs, one in each game. He doesn't remember ever going two full games without getting a flyball out.
"I put together some good outings in the fact of what I was trying to accomplish. Get the sinker consistent and getting ground balls again, and that was good," Britton said. "I got into a really good routine with that, in commanding that pitch."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his staff noticed.
"His last two starts were really indicative of what he is capable of doing," Showalter said. "It's good to see. He's in a good place, and hopefully he'll continue to provide some depth for us."
Because the Orioles have had two extra-inning games and a doubleheader in the past week, the bullpen needed reinforcements. So Britton will serve as the long reliever Thursday and possibly Friday. And if he is not needed, then he'd be in the mix for Monday's start against the Seattle Mariners, although Showalter wouldn't say Britton was the favorite in that scenario.
"I'd say he'd be considered for Monday," Showalter said. "We're considering some other people, too. We're going to take it day-to-day, see where we are."
At this point, Britton is content serving any role needed in the majors. And, though he knows 80 percent sinkers won't work in the majors, he believes he's now better prepared to pitch to his capabilities.
"Up here, I'm obviously not going to [throw the sinker 80 percent or more] because you obviously have to give guys different looks," said Britton, who was 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) for the Orioles last year. "[But the sinker] is where it was when I came up through the minors and where it needs to be to be the pitcher I want to be."
Around the horn
The Orioles will not face Seattle ace Felix Hernandez in their three game series at Safeco Field next week. They will, however, face former Oriole Joe Saunders on Monday. Saunders left the Orioles as a free agent in the offseason. …Heading into Thursday, McLouth had reached base in 12 of his last 19 games. His 11 walks as a leadoff hitter are second in the American League for table-setters, behind Oakland's Coco Crisp, who has 14. … Friday's starter Wei-Yin Chen has never pitched in Oakland. He is 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA in two starts against the Athletics in Baltimore. … The Orioles have lost 16 of their last 19 in Oakland before Thursday.