Baltimore Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli discusses updates that manager Showalter offered during the minicamp. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — While the Orioles' January pitching minicamp is organized more with an eye toward the future, some of the standing members of the major league pitching staff in attendance arrived in Sarasota for Monday's workout to begin a year without one of their own.
Orioles closer Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles tendon last month training in California, meaning the team will be missing its two-time All-Star closer for at least the first half of the season. Relievers Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, both of whom bolstered their own stock in Britton's absence last year, had Britton in their thoughts Monday.
"Whenever you see somebody, especially somebody you know or a teammate, go down like that, it's never a good reaction," Bleier said. "He's my friend, and just to see him be out for half the year or whatever, it personally is tough, and for the team, one of the best closers in the league, that's definitely a big hit for us."
"I was just upset," Givens said. "He's not a friend to us; he's part of our family, and the last few years, we take good pride in our bullpen. Having one of our family members and brothers to have an injury like that is a really sad thing to have happen. We're here behind him, and hopefully we'll get to see him as soon as possible and help him through his injury."
Bleier's emergence on the club last summer came as Britton was rehabilitating a strained forearm muscle, with the left-hander thriving in long relief and finishing the season with a 1.99 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 63 1/3 innings. Givens, who saw his role elevated around Britton's absence with Brad Brach becoming the closer, had a 2.75 ERA while striking out over 10 batters per nine innings.
They had the two best ERAs in the bullpen, and while each is focused individually on bettering his individual performance, the fact that they were such a big part of a bullpen that had to accommodate the loss of Britton for parts of 2017 has them feeling like 2018 could be similarly successful.
"It was [difficult], but I think we did a good job," Bleier said. "Brad filled in really nicely for Zach, and it didn't seem like we missed a beat there. When Darren [O'Day] went down, Givens slid in and did a really good job with that. It just seemed like as people came and went or whatever, guys stepped and filled in and did their job. I think we did, overall, a good job. Me and [Miguel] Castro came in and held it down a little bit, and then as other guys came through, they did their job. It definitely is challenging when you lose a guy like Britton for an extended period of time, but I think we made it work as well as we could have."
Around the horn: Just three pitchers threw bullpen sessions on the first day of the three-day minicamp — Bleier, right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis and Rule 5 left-hander Nestor Cortes. The rest of the attendees stretched, were assessed by the medical staff and played catch at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.