Left-hander Zach Britton was so pumped after throwing two scoreless innings Monday and picking up the win in the Orioles' 2-1 Opening Day victory against the Boston Red Sox that he talked after the game about how great it was to make his first major league relief appearance.
It was actually his third — the 26-year-old has primarily started throughout his entire career, but he did come out of the bullpen once each in 2011 and 2012.
Those were basically by chance, though. This time, it's by design. Britton made the the Opening Day roster as a reliever, and he's preparing to spend this season, until otherwise notified, in the bullpen.
"It's nice to get out of there the first day, and get that over with, and just kind of fall into a routine," said Britton, who has started 46 of his 49 major league games. "The adrenaline was pumping. Definitely had some nervous energy."
Britton, once considered a future stalwart in the starting rotation, was out of minor league options this spring and needed to show the club that he could be effective as a left-handed reliever.
Mission accomplished. In 102/3 innings in spring training, he allowed six hits, four walks and one earned run while striking out 11 batters.
"I think every guy is pulling for him. He obviously has been up and down the last couple years, and I think he really has found his niche this spring training," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. "Hopefully, the rest of the season he can be a guy we can lean on out of the bullpen. He looked sharp and was throwing strikes. And that's what he has got to do."
Britton entered in the sixth inning and faced seven Red Sox batters in his two innings. He retired six of them — giving up a lone double to Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts — all on groundballs. That's the biggest key for the sinkerballer.
"That's kind of they way I scripted it up, get those quick outs on the ground," Britton said. "It was good."
The hardest part, he said, is just trying to figure out how this whole bullpen thing works — and he's leaning on the established relievers, pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti for help.
"I'm picking everyone's [brains] on that one. I'm probably getting annoying for everyone," he said. "Dom and Dave told me it is going to be a six-month process for me. It's a new gig. You've got to kind of feel your way out."
The Orioles held three tributes before the game for prominent members of the organization who passed away this offseason.
The club showed a video of former Orioles center fielder Paul Blair, who won eight Gold Gloves and is considered the greatest defensive outfielder in club history. He died Dec. 26 at age 69.
In addition to a video to honor former public relations director Monica Pence Barlow, who died Feb. 28 at age 36, the club recognized her with a plaque in the press box. Her seat will remain open all season — and Monday it was draped with an orange jacket that she often wore. Her family was guests of the Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his wife, and her relatives attended the manager's postgame news conference.
Tom Clancy, a former Orioles investor and best-selling author who died in October at age 66, was memorialized with a patch bearing his name on the right sleeve of the team's uniforms. The Orioles also have entered into a partnership with more than 200 Maryland public libraries, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the state's Department of Education to create the "Tom Clancy Orioles Reading Club." Designed to encourage children to read, participants will be rewarded with tickets to Orioles games and other prizes.
Showalter said the losses were on his mind Monday.
"I do dwell on it. I know Monica wouldn't be happy, and Paul wouldn't be either [about dwelling on their deaths]," Showalter said. "I didn't know Mr. Clancy very well, but I heard a lot of great things about him. I do take it in."
Machado 'getting better'
Injured third baseman Manny Machado came to Camden Yards on Monday to accept his 2013 Gold and Platinum Glove awards before the game. Machado, who is still working his way back from left knee surgery in October, said it's not easy to watch his teammates play without being on the field.
"It's real hard. As a player, you want to always be there on Opening Day," Machado said. "Unfortunately, you can't [always], whether it's injuries or not making the big leagues. But you always want to play Opening Day, so it does hurt a lot."
Machado is on the 15-day disabled list now, and he likely won't play in the big leagues for at least several weeks. He returns to Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday and will continue his rehabilitation, which includes defensive drills and some light running.
"We're basically taking it slow. Running in pools, different exercises, doesn't necessarily always mean running [on flat ground]," Machado said. "We're trying to get to the point where it is getting better, and I can be ready to go. And it is getting better."
Stinson in long relief
Showalter said right-hander Josh Stinson will serve as the club's long reliever initially — especially with the player who filled the role last year, T.J. McFarland, in the Triple-A Norfolk starting rotation.
Stinson, 26, had 11 appearances last year for the Orioles, including one start. He had only one other outing more than two innings in 2013. Showalter said Britton and Brian Matusz, who was stretched out this spring as a starter, could initially pitch in long relief. Although, he said, that could get tricky.
"When you come out of camp, there are a bunch of guys capable of doing it. But what do you have after that happens?" Showalter said. "You don't have them for two or three days. We know Stinson is probably the primary guy, but we also — on a given day early in the season — could do Zach or Brian. You can't use them both long because then you don't have a left-hander out of the 'pen."
Around the horn
Right fielder Nick Markakis, who was dealing with neck stiffness this weekend, felt fine during batting practice and was in the starting lineup. He said he felt fine after the game as well. … It was Markakis' eighth consecutive Opening Day in right field, the franchise's second-longest streak for one outfield position. Only Blair, who started 12 straight in center field (1965 to 1976) had more consecutive starts at one outfield spot. Markakis has started more Opening Days in right field than any other player in franchise history. … Delmon Young became the 12th player in the past 12 years to serve as the Opening Day designated hitter for the Orioles. The last DH to start consecutive Opening Days was Harold Baines from 1993 to 1995. … Right-hander Dylan Bundy (right elbow) threw a 25-pitch session from a full mound Monday in Sarasota, Fla. … Right-hander Kevin Gausman will start Norfolk's opener Thursday. … Machado, Hardy and Adam Jones all received their 2013 Gold Glove Awards in a pregame ceremony. … The announced attendance was 46,685, the 23rd consecutive Opening Day sellout in Camden Yards history. … The Orioles are now 39-22 in Opening Day games. … Adm. James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
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