Orioles left-hander Zach Britton, limited to a throwing progression program because of left-shoulder inflammation, will throw his first bullpen session Friday.
Britton, who lead the team in wins last season as a rookie with an 11-11 record and 4.61 ERA in 28 starts, completed his fourth round of throwing a total of 120 pitches from 60, 90 and 120 feet from flat ground — a routine done to mainly raise his pitch count — and will now take two days off before throwing his first bullpen session from a full mound Friday, then another Monday.
If Britton remains on this pace, manager Buck Showalter said, he believes the ailment won't keep Britton from having the opportunity to make the team out of camp. With a dozen candidates fighting for five rotation spots, the competition level is high.
"I personally wouldn't put him as behind," Showalter said. "I look at behind as not an option to break [camp] with us. But right now, if he stays on this plan, he has an option to break with us if he pitches well enough to make our club. We hope to get to a point where it's just what we're seeing."
After watching the team's other pitchers have bullpen sessions and start live batting practice this week, Britton said he's excited for his first bullpen session.
"I feel really strong," Britton said. "Some guys need 10 bullpens to be ready, but hopefully when Friday comes along, once I know how I feel off the mound then will dictate where we go from there. I'm just excited to get [throwing from] off the mound."
Pitching coach Rick Adair said Britton needs four to five bullpen sessions to get adjusted.
"If he stays healthy and with the progress he's made and he's throwing the ball well, he could definitely be ready to help us, but that's something he will determine from a health standpoint and a performance standpoint," Adair said.
Britton, who has been throwing four-seam fastballs almost exclusively, said he threw some sinkers his past two sessions.
"I think the biggest thing for me is to get the feel of my pitches back because I haven't thrown a bullpen, so you have that obstacle," Britton said. "The biggest thing is making sure my fastball command is there. Everything else will come off of that. The biggest thing is getting off the mound and being able to command my fastball."
Right-hander Jim Johnson (lower-back pain) threw his second 25-pitch side session off a full mound. He was throwing his changeup along with his fastball.
He will have two days off and throw side sessions Friday and Monday. Johnson also began integrating himself into pitchers' fielding drills.
Spring starters announced
Showalter announced the tentative starting pitchers for Monday's Grapefruit League opening split-squad games.
Right-hander Alfredo Simon will start the Orioles' 1:05 p.m. road game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and left-hander Brian Matusz will start the 7:05 p.m. game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium. Each starter will likely pitch two innings.
Around the horn
Showalter said not to expect to see right fielder Nick Markakis, rehabilitating from offseason abdominal surgery, play until the end of the first week of spring training games at the earliest. "I wouldn't look for him much before the 10th [of March]," he said. "It could be the 15th. We just don't want to have any setbacks." … Too much shouldn't be made of Simon's starting the first spring game, but it looks like the Orioles will consider him a starter, at least initially. "You can always back a guy off from the starting part of it," Showalter said. "But you can't take a guy who is pitching one-inning stints and all of a sudden have him starting on the 24th of March. I'd rather put everyone in the mix and then whittle it down." … Right-hander Jason Berken (left hamstring) said he continues to feel better every day and could begin playing catch as soon as Wednesday. … Showalter said left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (left elbow discomfort) is also progressing well after having his elbow drained and receiving a cortisone shot Sunday. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
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