SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles closer Zach Britton realizes little will be made of his pitching line in his spring training debut Tuesday afternoon, but that didn't prevent him from being disappointed with his results.
After being brought along slowly this spring to keep a slight tightness in his oblique area from becoming a lingering problem, Britton allowed two runs on four singles while striking out two in the fourth inning against a Tampa Bay Rays split squad.
He isn't naïve to expect to be in Opening Day form in his first outing, but Britton has grown accustomed to pitching clean innings – he was scored upon in just five of his 69 appearances last season on his way to finishing fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. So the outing left a bad taste in his mouth.
"I think overall I feel OK," Britton said. "Physically I felt good. I know its spring and people don't care about results, but I know I do. So I wasn't too happy with it. … I still feel like the pitches they were hitting, they were on the ground but they weren't quality pitches, like location-wise and the way it was moving. It's just something that I'll kind of get over. But next outing, I'm going to be focused on getting behind the ball or whatever and making sure its sinking the way I want it to sink, not just have it run all over the place."
As he warmed up before the fourth inning, he forced the catcher out of the crouch twice with wild throws. He acknowledged he was thinking about his side as he threw his first few pitches of the inning, and while he carried good velocity with his fastball – he sat at 93-94 mph – he battled with location, his pitches running horizontally instead of giving him his normal sink.
"Maybe the first couple pitches," Britton said when asked if he thought about his side while on the mound. "But after that, I stopped thinking about it and it was more trying to kind find a rhythm and I really didn't feel like I found one out there, so that's kind of something that I'm going to focus on next time I'm out there."
All four of the hits off Britton were hit on the ground, but weren't the level of weak contact he normally elicits. One was an infield hit chopper to second and another was a comebacker to the mound that Britton nearly snagged before it went through, a two-out hit by second baseman Nick Franklin that scored center fielder Braxton Lee from second base.
After Corey Dickerson's chopper put runners at first and second, Steven Souza Jr.'s sharp grounder skipped past third baseman Chris Johnson, bringing home the second run off Britton.
Again, a veteran struggling in his first spring outing doesn't prompt concerns from the trained eye, but Britton allowed more runs in his inning Tuesday than he did in eight Grapefruit League innings last year (one).
"It's so hard to remember what it feels like every spring," Britton said. "Physically I felt good. I didn't feel like I needed to build up arm strength or anything like that. I just feel like the pitch quality just wasn't there. I want to improve that the next time I get on the mound."