SARASOTA, Fla. - Two years ago, Zach Britton was the surprise of spring training and he became the Baltimore Orioles' leading winner of 2011.
Last year, Britton was slowed by a sore left shoulder, and he started the season on the disabled list. Britton ended up pitching in just 12 games for the Orioles, ending up with a 5-3 record and a 5.07 ERA.
This spring, Britton had lots of competition for the fifth starter's job, and had a nightmarish start on Wednesday when he gave up five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings.
On Saturday, Britton was sent to Triple-A Norfolk. His spring ERA of 6.10 and Wednesday's performance against Toronto convinced him the Orioles made the right move.
"It's disappointing, but I think you understand it's a fierce competition. Guys are throwing better than me," Britton said. "I have some things I need to get better at."
Jake Arrieta was all but given the fifth starter's spot on Saturday when manager Buck Showalter announced that he would pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday when Baltimore is playing the Minnesota Twins. Showalter is keeping his starters from pitching against the American League East and the Twins, who face the Orioles when Arrieta's turn comes up.
"Jake has been throwing the ball well. And it's a competition. He's definitely proven that he probably deserves it," Britton said. "Mentally I don't think I was feeling like I was ready to be with the team and I'm sure they saw that."
Showalter spoke at length to Britton, who admitted the demotion wasn't unexpected.
"He's just got some guys ahead of him right now. It's as simple as that. He has the potential to change that," Showalter said. "Zach needs to go pitch and get ready to come up here and help us if we need it. He knows he's not quite where he needs to be."
Besides Britton, the Orioles optioned Jonathan Schoop, who showed well playing for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic and infielder Yamaico Navarro to Norfolk, too. They reassigned right-handed pitcher Daniel McCutchen, who's been experimenting with a three-quarters delivery.
Schoop will probably play shortstop at Norfolk. He was 3-for-4 with a two-run home run on Friday against Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte.
"I'd think he's got a chance to have a lot of playing time up here in his career," Showalter said.
CHEN ROCKED: Wei-Yin Chen allowed seven runs, six of them unearned on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings in the Orioles' 13-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before a sellout crowd of 8,119 at Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday.
The Phillies hit five home runs, three off Chen. Chase Utley had a pair of two-run home runs. Ryan Howard added one on a warm and very windy day.
"Not a good day to give up fly balls to left field," Showalter said.
Chen hadn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 8 because of Showalter's AL East avoidance. His last two starts came at the Orioles' minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park.
Chen didn't blame his difficulties on not seeing major leaguers for a while.
"That would be an excuse," he said through his translator. "They timed me really well today. Most of my pitches were up in the zone."
Chen's next start will come on Thursday in a minor league game because the Orioles are facing Tampa Bay, who they open the season with, that night.
HAMMEL TO OPEN: Jason Hammel has been kept away from big leaguers, too. He didn't pitch well against the Phillies in a split squad at Clearwater last Sunday. Hammel threw six innings against minor leaguers on Friday, and he'll pitch in another minor league game on Wednesday before presumably pitching against Tampa Bay on Apr. 2.
"If it happens, it's great and it would be an honor," Hammel said. "We've still got a few more decisions to make here, so I'm not thinking about that."
ODDS AND ENDS: Brian Matusz will start against Pittsburgh in Bradenton on Sunday. Jeff Karstens pitches for the Pirates. Chris Tillman faces a group of Orioles minor leaguers at Twin Lakes. ... Mark Hendrickson rejoined the team after missing a few days to be with his new infant daughter.