Orioles left-hander Zach Britton, whose season was slowed by nagging shoulder soreness last year, turned to club special assistant Brady Anderson this offseason to regain strength -- and confidence -- in his arm. The 25-year-old Britton believes that will be the difference in his efforts to get back into the Orioles starting rotation.
Britton, who didn't pitch for the Orioles last season until mid-July because of left shoulder impingement and then struggled with his consistency once he returned to the big leagues, spent the offseason working out with Anderson in California.
"It was huge," Britton said. "I didn't have an offseason [last year] and I really didn't have a spring training really. I lost a lot of strength and I think it showed in my performance. I probably wasn't where I needed to be to be successful in the big leagues. It's been great with Brady getting that strength back in my arm. I threw a bullpen [Thursday] and it was worlds better than I felt even pitching in the big leagues last year."
Anderson is also training Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, right-hander Chris Tillman and left-hander Wei-Yin Chen in California. Last season, Anderson's offseason work with Tillman and Brian Matusz helped the pair arrive in spring training in much better physical shape.
Last spring, Britton wasn't able to overcome the inflammation in his left shoulder, which had bothered him since the previous August. He went through two rounds of platelet rich plasma therapy in the spring and spent the season's opening two months in Sararsota until going on a minor league rehab assignment in June.
"At this time last year, I didn't know what was going on with the shoulder," Britton said. "I just knew it hurt and I couldn't throw. I spoke with [pitching coach] Rick [Adair] the other day and told him about how mental it was for me, just believing I wasn't hurt. There would be times last season during games when I'd throw a pitch wondering if I'm going to hurt instead of focusing on getting guys out, and you can't be successful like that.
"And now I have the confidence from working out with Brady, being stronger throwing bullpens and knowing my arm is in shape," Britton said. "I think from a confidence standpoint I feel so much better where I am right now. I feel like when I was healthy down in the minor leagues my first big league camp, you feel good because you're healthy and you're excited to get the spring going."
Britton said he's concentrated on building his upper body strength with Anderson. Britton said he wasn't able to build that strength last offseason because of the shoulder problems.
"Pretty much I was wearing [the shoulder] down for two seasons without building it back up," Britton said. "We really focused on doing some upper body stuff. He's big on handstands and pull-ups, things I normally don't do, things you think 'Oh should I be doing that?' He teaches you the proper technique and you see the benefit of what you're doing. It's great what he's doing."
Britton won five of his first six decisions once he returned to the Orioles, including an eight-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout, zero-walk effort against the White Sox on Aug. 30. But he struggled with his fastball command and made just one appearance – a one-inning relief outing – in the regular season's last 2 ½ weeks.
Now, Britton feels he's finally healthy again and ready for a starting rotation competition that could include 10 candidates.
"I think I need to show what I can do," Britton said. "I think [manager] Buck [Showalter] and [Adair] both understand that when I'm commanding the baseball I can do very well at the big league level, so I think it's just a matter of consistency. And if I do that I know I'll be in a good spot and I know that I'll be one of the best five we've got. It's good competition, so everybody's going to be gunning for it. You definitely have to do something to separate yourself from the rest."