Orioles' Zach Britton blocking out distractions as he continues to put together a strong spring

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Left-hander Zach Britton can't control whether the Orioles add another starting pitcher to an already crowded rotation mix. All he can do is force his way into the discussion with a strong spring.

And while there was still buzz around Orioles camp Sunday about the club's interest in right-hander Ervin Santana, Britton continued to pitch well.


Britton worked two scoreless innings in the Orioles' 9-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium, allowing just one hit while striking out two and walking one.

Over three Grapefruit League outings, Britton has allowed one run and five hits over six innings, with five strikeouts and two walks.

"I'm happy with my spring to this point," Britton said. "Obviously, we've still got some weeks left. I'm just happy that every outing I feel like I'm progressing. You don't want to be in midseason form right now. You still want to be working toward getting better every outing. I feel like I'm doing that, and there's still some areas I can improve on, but I'm extremely happy with where I'm at right now."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he's been especially impressed with Britton's sinker, which was hitting 93-95 mph on Sunday afternoon.

"I think that [it is] the work I did in the offseason, the way my arm feels this year, maybe being out of options, too," Britton said. "A lot of the focus has just gone toward what I can do on the field to be successful and stopped worrying about signings that we do or roster decisions. The focus is now completely out on the field and out on that mound and how can I improve and better myself this year."

Britton's outing Sunday didn't come without its challenges. When Britton entered the game in the top of the sixth inning, the first hitter he faced, Michael Martinez, reached on a throwing error by Ivan DeJesus Jr.

Despite a wild pitch that moved Martinez into scoring position, Britton bore down and retired the next three batters, including swinging strikeouts of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. In the seventh inning, he issued a one-out walk to Adalberto Santos and a single to Tony Sanchez but induced a pair of ground ball outs to end the frame.

"Zach was good today," Showalter said. "When a quality hitter swings and misses at a sinker, it's a pretty good sinker. ... He's been sharp. Hopefully he's following the same path as another guy who was out of options this spring."

Showalter was referring to right-hander Chris Tillman, who became a 16-game winner last season after being out of minor league options.

Britton will have a good chance of making the team if he continues his spring success -- the Orioles don't want to risk losing him -- but he appears to be more in line for a bullpen role now that the club signed Ubaldo Jimenez as a front-line starter. While other starters are working three innings, Britton threw just two for a second straight outing.

If the Orioles add Santana, who received a one-year offer from the Orioles for near the $14.1-million qualifying offer he declined early this offseason, it would further muddle the rotation picture.

"I haven't really thought about it," Britton said. "I haven't really looked into any of the stuff. If we sign another guy, we sign another guy. That's been my mindset. I know when I'm healthy and I'm pitching the way I am, I can compete with anybody that we sign. Whether I get the opportunity to do that, it's out of my control. But just go out there and put on a good showing and hopefully I've got an opportunity on this team and kind of go from there."

Britton said not only does he feel healthier than he did this time last year during spring training. But more importantly, Britton said he's not pitching with the enormous pressure he might have the past two springs as he tried to rally front left shoulder problems.

"These young guys in this clubhouse, I've been in their shoes, too, where you're out there pitching well but they keep signing guys," Britton said. "You don't know what's going on. It's a lot of stress. Those are things that people outside the clubhouse don't really notice, but it's a lot of stress when you're worrying about five different things. This year I'm just focused on being successful on the field and everything else will take care of itself."