Orioles manager Buck Showalter believes the version of closer Zach Britton who worked around a leadoff single Monday for his second save of the season and stranded a runner on third base in a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees is proof of another step in the right direction.
And considering the only tunes anyone wants to hear about the Orioles these days are those in the key of trade value, that's good news. The deadline to get anything of value for their former All-Star closer draws nearer.
"Very quietly, little by little, he's getting there," Showalter said. "You could tell by his body language he felt really good about his stuff."
Britton, who threw 15 sinkers in the 15-pitch outing, topped out at 96.7 mph and averaged 95.8 mph for the second straight outing. He had to work for it Monday, with a leadoff single going off Manny Machado's glove and putting Miguel Andújar on first base. Britton spiked a sinker for a wild pitch that put Andújar on second, then saw the rookie go to third on a chopper up the middle that Jonathan Schoop turned into an out at first.
Britton then struck out Kyle Higashioka before Brett Gardner grounded out to first to leave Andújar in place.
In completing the save, Britton lowered his ERA to 4.63 with his fourth straight scoreless appearance and sixth in his past seven appearances.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said his arm strength is "as good as he's ever been.
"If not that, maybe better, because he's as fresh as they come," Showalter said. "There's not many relievers walking around as fresh as he is right now."
Britton has been much more consistent with his command and the life on his sinker of late, and one rival scout in attendance Monday said it was easily the best he's looked this season.
Despite some of his struggles, Britton, who didn't have a full offseason of training and missed two months of the regular season because of Achilles tendon surgery, is forcing evaluators to project his worth outside of Baltimore.
Putting him in front of a defense better than the Orioles' would likely improve his results some, as would more time to get his strength back. Monday, however, was another bit of progress in building up his value.
The same can't be said for Brad Brach, who was assigned the eighth inning of the Orioles' Game 2 loss Monday. He entered with the hosts down 4-0, and after two quick outs, he allowed a double, a home run and two more doubles, chasing him from the game before he could record the third out.
"Tonight's an example," Showalter said. "He gets two outs — it happened on the road trip one time. His last time was real good. It's really close. You see his arm strength, but just that one pitch, he gets it in the wrong place and doesn't get it.
"I think he's fighting himself, too. You can tell he's not quite comfortable with his delivery and with his command. We've tried a lot of different things over the year. He's had some good spells for us, and will again. Tonight got away from him."
Brach, a former All-Star whose club control expires after this year, went a month-plus (May 2 to June 6) without allowing an earned run, but he’s been prone to bad innings since then. In his past 14 outings, he's allowed multiple runs four times, including seven earned runs in six innings over his past seven appearances.
As much as they can, the Orioles are steering him toward low-leverage situations and one-inning stints, where he can be presented in the best light to other teams. It's not that his stuff is down — after a slow start to the season, his fastball is back in the 94- to 95-mph range that it usually is. He's also striking out over a batter per inning for the fourth straight year.
But his high walk rate shows that he's been more wild than usual — sometimes effectively, sometimes less so — and his 4.63 ERA tells the story of a pitcher who doesn't have nearly the trade value he would have at this time last year.