"It felt good after the layoff to get back out there," said Zach Britton after pitching a scoreless ninth inning. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Zach Britton said Monday that his achy knee wouldn't have prevented him from pitching in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, though Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after the victory that the closer had been unavailable.
"I was under the impression [I'd be available] after talking with Buck before the game, but I don't start doing anything down there until he calls and says who's in the game, and he didn't," Britton said. That was that."
Britton threw a pregame bullpen session with pitching coach Roger McDowell to test the knee and said it "felt good."
"I was ready to go yesterday," Britton said. "Just a normal member of the bullpen right now. This knee issue is something I've had since '14, so it's not anything new to us inside the clubhouse or the medical staff, so we're not going to treat it any differently than we had the last few years."
Britton was encouraged by the results of an MRI on Thursday that revealed no structural difference in the left knee that's been bothering him for years, and while he tried to wear a new, bulky brace over the weekend, he went back to the sleeve he'd been wearing. But he was held out for the entire series, even with Brad Brach converting a five-out save Sunday.
On Monday, Britton worked around a one-out walk for the save in the Orioles 7-6 win over the Seattle Mariners.
However, Sunday's difference in opinions makes for another disconnect in a season during which Britton has been frustrated by both a recurring forearm strain and now this knee concern.
There were also signals crossed at the outset of his two-month disabled-list trip on how long he could be out or whether there would be any public timeline to begin with, and Britton ultimately missed the two months that were initially suggested.
It's all been part of a stop-and-start season for Britton, who last appeared Wednesday when he saw his run of 60 straight save opportunities ended in an eventual Orioles win over the Oakland Athletics. He has a 3.42 ERA in 26 1/3 innings over 29 appearances this year.
He acknowledged that the knee soreness might have kept him out of games before and since the MRI, and said players should be grateful for a manager who keeps them out of harm's way.
"It's been tough," Britton said. "I haven't had a lot of save opportunities. Me and Buck were just talking about how last year, that schedule was probably the smoothest schedule you could get. I rarely had three days off. I was pitching a lot and pitching I situations I'd normally pitch in, where this year, I think for a while we either lost by a lot or won by a lot. Not a whole lot of games that I'd been in or available to pitch in. It's been tough to get into a rhythm, for sure."
Last season, 20 of Britton's 69 appearances were on longer than two days of rest. This year, nine of 29 have been. He said before the game that he was eager to pitch again Monday. Showalter said he would have pitched the ninth inning regardless of the situation.
"I've blown saves before," he said. "I think you learn that when the time comes, I'll get back in the game. But you try not to stress about it. You see it for what it is and work on making adjustments and try to be better whenever I get into the game, whether it's tonight or tomorrow."