Orioles notebook: Closer Zach Britton takes major step toward return

Zach Britton says he's ready to return to the mound either Friday or Saturday.

After throwing for the first time since Sunday, Orioles closer Zach Britton said Friday that he's ready to return from the sore left lat injury that has kept him out this week.

Before Friday's series opener against the Boston Red Sox, Britton played catch off flat ground, extending to a long toss of about 120 feet, and then threw 10 to 15 pitches off the mound in the Fenway Park visiting bullpen.

Britton said he felt good enough to consider himself available Friday, but said that would be Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s decision as to when he'd be able to return. Showalter called Britton's session Friday “encouraging.”

“I think we jumped over any hurdle we needed to to kind of see if I was game ready and I feel like I’m right there right now,” Britton said. “I think tomorrow is probably more realistic, but it felt good enough where tonight could be an option if there's a need. … I tried to let some go [in the bullpen] and simulate a game or a situation, but it's obviously impossible to do that. But it felt great.”

With Britton unavailable for the past four days, setup man Darren O’Day has recorded saves in each of the past three games in his absence.

“Me and Darren talked. I was like, ‘I kind of picked a tough time for you,’” Britton said. “[With him going] three days in a row, it would definitely be nice to get back out there so we can kind of save the guys in the ‘pen.

“Three days off felt like a week. I can’t remember the last time I had three days off, but no. Once you get off the mound, it’s kind of like riding a bike, once you get a feel for the first few. I was getting antsy sitting there in the bullpen charting [pitches] the last couple games so I’m excited to get back.”

Britton said he actually did more work before Friday’s game than he expected, which was a positive sign.

“When you're starting, you've got to build up for five innings,” Britton said. “For me, an inning or two. I think [there's] a better understanding of what it really is or how it's going to feel just by throwing in the bullpen. I don't know if we expected to actually throw in the bullpen today, so that was really good. Maybe that gets me back soon.”

Britton said the injury cropped up during the Orioles’ home series against the Red Sox last week and then bothered him again this weekend at Tampa Bay. The Orioles performed an MRI on Tuesday that came back clean.

The Orioles have overcome Britton’s absence, with right-hander Brad Brach and rookie right-hander Mychal Givens accommodating bigger late-inning roles, while O’Day filled in as closer. Brach threw two scoreless innings Tuesday, then a scoreless eighth Thursday. Givens tossed two perfect innings — the seventh and eighth — on Wednesday.

“Darren and Brad have been throwing well all year,” Britton said. “You put them in the eighth, ninth inning, seventh inning, whatever, they’re going to do the same job they’ve been doing all year.

“Darren, he could be closing for a lot of teams and I think everyone’s seeing that now. But it didn’t surprise me at all that he went out there and shut that lineup down. It’s nice when you have that option to let me take a break when I need it and I appreciate those guys picking me up.”

Asked if he’d get a cut from O’Day, a pending free agent, if this leads to him getting closer money this offseason, Britton joked that “we’ve discussed something along a little payment scale.”

“He’s been throwing so well this year, even better than last year and last year was a pretty impressive year,” Britton said. “I’m happy for him and I hope we can keep him.”

Jones improving, but still out of lineup

Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the starting lineup for the fifth straight day Friday because of back spasms.

Jones went through a series of tests before Friday’s game, including running, throwing and hitting drills. But Showalter wanted to give him at least one extra day. As he has in previous days, Showalter didn’t rule out Jones being available off the bench.

“Close,” Showalter said of Jones’ status. “He's not 100 percent, but he's close. I think his appearance in a game is imminent. Very close. Could be tonight. He threw and ran around and hit in the cage.”

Even if Jones — who has dealt with shoulder, ankle, wrist and back ailments this season — returns for the final nine games of the season, he will have played in his fewest games since appearing in 119 in 2009.

Around the horn

Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will start Sunday’s series finale in Boston, Showalter announced. … Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez will throw a bullpen session before Saturday’s game and is expected to start next week against the Toronto Blue Jays, likely Tuesday night at Camden Yards. … The Orioles faced the first of three Red Sox left-handed starters Friday in left-hander Rich Hill. Boston is scheduled to start lefty reliever Craig Breslow on Saturday in a game pitched by the bullpen. Left-hander Henry Owens is scheduled to start Sunday’s finale. The Orioles entered Friday 22-18 against left-handed starters this season.

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