The injury, which will likely end Britton’s injury-hindered season, was revealed during an exit physical MRI this week. The timing of the injection is to accelerate his offseason recovery so the knee isn’t a problem when he reports for spring training in February for his final season before he’s set to become a free agent.
“It showed that it had gotten a little bit worse and that’s why we’re taking the steps we are now,” Britton said Wednesday night. “Nothing drastic, but obviously throwing on it for two months obviously didn’t help. [Team orthopedist Dr. Michael] Jacobs thought the best idea was to start the recovery process now with that injection.”
Britton has pitched through varying degrees of discomfort in his knee since 2014, but in recent weeks, it became more of a problem.
Coming off a season in which he was the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting, this year was hindered by a slow spring training, a forearm injury that landed him on the DL for most of the first half and now a regression in his knee.
“It’s not a normal thing to do to your body, to do this for six or seven months,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But Zach’s had a pretty good year this year in what, 38 games? A lot of people would kill for that, or trade places with him, I should say. Now the level that he was pitching at as far as the longevity and the success is extremely rare. I told you, he had the best season of any reliever in the history of baseball in my mind. I think time will show that. You’re not going to see that again. I knew it last year when I was watching it. I think he’s going to be a good quality pitcher for us next year. He’ll be as healthy as his job he does for a living will allow him to be.”
All sides are confident that Britton will avoid surgery on the knee, though the stem-cell therapy is a relatively new procedure. The process involves taking a sample of healthy stem cells from from an athlete’s own blood or bone marrow and injecting them into an injured area to help aid in the recovery from an injury.
“There’s still a lot of research and things going into it,” Showalter said. “We know it doesn’t hurt and we know that it’s helped. But there’s not enough information or research on it to know exactly what the return is on it. I know some people swear by them. Some people have gotten great results and some, it’s something we would do anyway as the season ended probably to get that going because it is something that’s going to heal, I’m told. … The consistent [feedback] I get from doctors and trainers is that there’s still not enough track record of it, history, because it hasn’t been around that long, I don’t think. I’d say more than half of the people get positive results from it. They think it speeds up the healing process.”
The right path for Wright? As the team begins to survey potential candidates for next season’s starting rotation, Showalter said he has considered right-hander Mike Wright among several possibilities to receive a start in the season’s final games.
Wright, who struggled in his time as a major league starter, hasn’t received a start at the big league level this season. He’s pitched exclusively in relief, posting a 5.23 ERA in 20 2/3 innings, as the club tests his ability to pitch out of a major league bullpen.
“There’s always that potential he could start,” Showalter said. “We talked about it. We put four of five guys on the board for the spots whether it be Mike, or [Dylan] Bundy or [Kevin] Gausman, or [Miguel] Castro or Tanner Scott. We put them up there, and then we start eliminating them [thinking about] what’s best for them. With Mike, it’s probably going to be two or three days until he can pitch again. …. Mike’s an option for us starting. So are three or four others. We’ll see.”
Showalter said Wright, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 9-0 loss to Boston, his second-longest scoreless outing as a reliever this season, likely will not be available again until this weekend.
“He’s got a background in starting and relieving and the issue would be how he would respond physically to relieving, I think initially,” Showalter said. “Would he be able to recover and be a guy who would be able to pitch out of the ’pen? And obviously our need, and every team’s need will be the priority of starting.”
Wright will be out of minor league options next season.
Scott on debut: Hard-throwing left-hander Tanner Scott acknowledged some nervous moments during his major league debut Wednesday night, and it was evident when one of his first warmup pitches went to the backstop.
“When I was coming into the game I was thinking, OK, this is a little bigger than [Double-A] Bowie,” Scott said Thursday.
Scott allowed two runs on two hits and a pair of walks, both runs scoring on Dustin Pedroia’s two-out double, but he also recorded his first career-strikeout, getting Deven Marrero swinging on a slider, the pitch he’s been honing this season at Double-A to compliment his high-90s fastball.
“The slider has come a long way, so it was good to get my first strikeout on the slider,” Scott said.
Scott said he quickly took notice of the difference between Double-A and the majors.
“Yeah, the strike zone is smaller and the hitters are better,” he said. “The first one’s out of the way and that’s a good thing. It’s felt good and I’m ready to get back out there.”
Around the horn: Showalter said that the team isn’t considering adding another reliever to replace Britton, but could bring up and additional infielder. … Orioles shortstop Tim Beckham was out of the lineup for a second straight game after getting an abscessed wisdom tooth removed. Beckham said he hoped to get back in the lineup Friday. … Third baseman Manny Machado was back in the starting lineup Thursday a day after missing a game with an illness. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Andriese.