When Zach Britton ruptured his right Achilles tendon in December while conducting offseason workouts, the idea of returning to the mound within six months seemed to be a reach. So joining the Orioles on Monday, 10 days short of that six-month milestone, was the first victory of Britton’s season before it began.
The Orioles activated their star closer from the 60-day disabled list before the opening game of their three-game home set against the Boston Red Sox.
“When I talked to the doctor and he told me that I ruptured my Achilles, a lot of thoughts went through my head,” Britton said. “He told me he was good at what he did and that he'd get me back as quickly as possible. But I don't think anybody would have anticipated before six months.”
On Britton’s rehabilitation assignment, he allowed one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings, striking out six and walking none while holding opponents to a .211 batting average. Despite that success, Britton acknowledged that he would have some nerves in his first major league outing back.
“When you come from spring training and the season starts, you’re anxious for that first outing anyway,” Britton added. “It's been eight months, nine months since I've pitched in a big league game. So I'm sure there's going to be some anxiety out there. But I feel like in the rehab games I got a lot of that out of the way, but there's nothing like stepping on the big league mound and facing some good hitters.”
Britton applauded the work of Orioles head athletic trainer Brian Ebel, who went to California in the offseason to work with Britton on the opening stages of his rehab.
“And the thought that he’s a pitcher for us on June 11, that’s remarkable,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s checked every box you could check to get ready. I don’t know what else you could do.”
Before Monday’s game, Showalter said he will likely shift Britton back into the closer role gradually.
“In a perfect world, I would [prefer to] not have to [save games] right out of the chute. I’d rather not. … I would rather kind of work his way into it with an outing or two, but sometime the competition and the game doesn’t cooperate.”
A speedy return allows the Orioles to showcase Britton — as they did last season when he returned from a forearm injury — in advance of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. The Orioles nearly shipped Britton to the Houston Astros last year, and because he’s a pending free agent, moving Britton to build toward the future seems inevitable.
While he joins a floundering Orioles team that’s out of contention in early June, Britton hopes he’s put behind him a litany of injuries since the beginning of the 2017 season that includes forearm, knee and foot injuries so he can return his 2016 form, when he had one of the best seasons by a closer in history.
“Just getting back to the level of performance that I want to be at, I had some injuries [those] last few years, so I'm looking forward to turning the page on that and just getting back to pitching well,” Britton said. “Everyone in this clubhouse wants to do well at this level, and that's my focus, just getting back to pitching well and doing what I normally do.”
Tillman nearing rehab assignment
Right-hander Chris Tillman (lower back strain) threw three innings of 15 pitches apiece in extended spring training, Showalter said, and is nearing pitching for an affiliate in the next week or so.
Showalter said Tillman, who last pitched for the Orioles on May 10, could pitch for Short-A Aberdeen on Wednesday in his first affiliated rehab appearance. Showalter has said Tillman will need to illustrate not only that he's healthy, but also that he's changed something to make him more effective than he was while compiling the 10.46 ERA he carried before he went on the disabled list.
Around the horn
Outfielder Ryan McKenna, second baseman Preston Palmeiro, left-hander Alex Wells and right-hander Christian Alvarado were selected to represent High-A Frederick in the Carolina League All-Star Game next week. ... Outfielder DJ Stewart (hamstring) was activated from the disabled list at Triple-A Norfolk on Monday but didn’t play because the Tides were rained out. ... Showalter said right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, who has been out with shin and shoulder problems, is nearing joining an affiliate for a rehab assignment. ... Outfielder Colby Rasmus, who was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, will come off the bench for Frederick on Monday by design, Showalter said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.