MINNEAPOLIS — Zach Britton’s perfect eighth inning Wednesday came in a loss, but as the Orioles closer continues to search for his old dominant form — and potential trade suitors take account of his progress — his outing was a significant step forward in his return from Achilles tendon surgery.
Britton needed 18 pitches to complete an 1-2-3 inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, including three groundouts. Two came on full-counts, a sign that he was not only getting movement on his sinker, but that he needed to execute pitches late in counts.
His average sinker velocity of 94.78 mph was his highest in his 10 appearances this season. His secondary pitch was equally effective, as four of his five swinging strikes came on his slider.
“I think overall looking at the outing, I had some good swing and misses on the sinker and then two ground balls on 3-2 counts,” Britton said. “Guys were beating the ball into the ground. That’s telling you something. I’ve had a few outings with 3-2 counts and guys were getting the ball elevated, whether that’s a fly ball or a line drive. So yeah, for sure, that’s telling me I had the right action, that I’m getting there.”
Britton owns a 5.59 ERA in 9 2/3 innings since returning from the disabled list, which is a short sample size, but it is all rival scouts have to look at when assessing Britton’s value as a trade asset as the nonwaiver deadline approaches July 31.
His earlier outings were uncharacteristic. His sinker was flat and his velocity was down, a sign that Britton is still getting his arm strength back and his legs out from under him after a long rehabilitation from surgery to repair the Achilles in December.
“I told you from the get go, there will be some steps both ways,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I can just tell from his face and the way he’s feeling. He’s very close. … Zach is going to get right back into step here shortly. I’d really like to create more situations for him, but he’s very close to being there.”
Britton has tried to take positives from each outing, and he said that Wednesday’s against the Phillies had plenty to draw from.
“[Odúbel] Herrera, the lefty, seeing the swings he took on the sinkers, that’s a hint that it’s getting there and I threw some good breaking ball off that,” Britton said. “I’ve slowly gotten a little bit more comfortable and if anything a little less focused on the things I would be concentrating on in spring training.
“But yeah, I think yesterday, I felt good. The velocity was the best consistency it’s been, around  fours, fives and sixes [mph], which is another sign I’m getting my arm strength back and things like that. You take the positive out of each one, but also get a lot more result-oriented than just getting work in.”