Orioles closer Zach Britton still doesn’t know when he can resume throwing again, but said Tuesday that his strained left forearm feels a lot better two days after he was placed on the 10-day disabled list.
If anything, that Britton is continuing to progress is a relief for the closer that the injury isn’t worse than he might have thought. Britton acknowledged that he was worried when he was first diagnosed with a forearm strain because of how often that injury is a precursor to elbow problems.
“There’s panic with me, too,” Britton said. “I’ve never had anything remotely near the elbow, so any time you hear forearm, you think elbow. Once I kind of got to talk to [head athletic trainer] Richie [Bancells], [assistant athletic trainer] Brian Ebel and Dr. [Michael] Jacobs and kind of everybody, we wrapped their heads around it. 'OK, there’s a big difference in things that happen in the arm.'
“Not everything is elbow-related. Things can be forearm, and just be forearm and that gave me a little bit of room. I kind of let some breath out, and OK, hopefully it’s what they’re saying, it’s a little strain and get back at it, and not to worry about the elbow. They’ve done a lot of tests on the elbow, and it looks good, come in tomorrow, and continue what we’re doing, but I feel pretty good right now.”
Britton, who last pitched Friday in Toronto and felt tightness in his forearm after throwing the second of two sliders in the ninth inning, said he probably won’t know when he can pick up a ball for another few days.
“I don’t think we’re at that stage right now,” Britton said. “Whatever we’re doing in the training room, we’re making good progress. I feel pretty good. If anything, I feel maybe a little more relieved that it’s nothing serious just based on how it’s felt with the off day and then coming in today. So hopefully we continue to make progress tomorrow and the next day, and then we’ll probably talk about when we want to play catch and what-not.”
Depending on how quickly he resumes throwing, he might still need a minor league rehabilitation outing just to ensure he’s completely ready to return.
“I think it depends how long I’m out,” Britton said. “Obviously, the DL is 10 days. It’s kind of a floating time frame, I think. It depends on how long I go past there. Right now, my arm feels good shoulder-wise. You don’t know. I’m assuming that would be an option that we would discuss. You don’t want to get into a big league game, and all of a sudden you have issues. It’s better off sometimes if you try it in a minor league game and make sure you feel good and then get back with the team.”
Orioles setup man Brad Brach said that he and right-hander Darren O’Day were both told by manager Buck Showalter that no fill-in closer will be named while Britton is out, but that Showalter will turn to different relievers in the ninth inning depending on matchups and situations.
“He just discussed with us a little bit that he’s not really going to name a closer when Zach is gone,” Brach said. “It’s just going to be situational and we’re just going to play it game-by-game and go from there. It’s basically the same thing. He always wants to keep you on your toes. He’s never just going to say, 'You’re the ninth-inning pitcher or the eighth-inning pitcher.' It’s just kind of game-to-game and situation-to-situation.”
Still, Brach would be the leading candidate to get the most save opportunities while Britton is sidelined. Brach had been dominant in six relief outings, allowing just one hit in six scoreless innings while recording 10 strikeouts and three walks.
Brach hasn’t closed games regularly since pitching in Double-A in 2011 in the Padres organization, so it would be an adjustment.
“I just enjoy the ‘game being on the line’ type of thing,” Brach said. “That kind of plays into my mentality out there on the mound and I really thrived in it in the minor leagues, so if I get a chance to close in the coming weeks I’ll just look forward to it and try not to change anything I’m doing because it’s been working the last couple of years.”
“I hope [it’s not different],” Brach said about being without Britton. “We try to cover up as best we can and I think we do a good job of it, but obviously Zach is one of the best pitches, if not the best reliever in baseball. To have a guy missing like that, it’s going to affect somebody but we’ve been able to do a good job so far of having guys be able to replace him and hopefully that just continues.”