Closer Zach Britton’s minor-league rehabilitation assignment was essentially a reset to his season as the Orioles planned out seven outings to replicate spring training before he would rejoin the club.
And as Britton’s rehab assignment — which took him to four in-state minor league affiliates — ended with a scoreless ninth inning for High-A Frederick at Harry Grove Stadium, it wasn’t Britton’s most crisp outing of the seven. But much like the rustiness that comes with the final outing of spring training, when players are ready to head north, it could be expected.
Britton allowed a double and issued a walk in his 19-pitch outing, his longest on his rehab assignment, in the Keys’ 3-0 loss to the Lynchburg Hillcats. Britton didn’t have the best control, falling behind four of the five hitters he faced and throwing just 10 strikes, but he emerged satisfied.
“Physically wise, I mean, and mentally, I’m just ready to get back with the team,” Britton said. “The last two have kind of just been mentally trying to stay focused down here, but knowing that I’m anxious to get back with the team, feeling the way I should feel. Obviously, I think I’ll get sharper, obviously as the innings get under my belt more. I threw seven down here, which was good, but half of those were mostly making sure everything felt good physically, so now I’m in the mode of just kind of attacking hitters and making good pitches, so that will continue when I get back with the team.”
He will have an early flight today to Milwaukee to rejoin the major league club and expects to be activated from the disabled list Wednesday.
“I felt good, felt good again, a lot of movement again, missing down, command wasn’t as good as it was. I was kind of happy how I came back after throwing some balls down. I threw some good quality pitches. So that’s good, making the adjustment. … I had a long warmup in the bullpen [an estimated 30 pitches as the Keys rallied in the bottom of the eighth], which was nice, and then got in the game. I threw some sinkers. I was happy with it with the way I felt physically, maybe not with all the results. Physically felt really good again.”
After retiring the first hitter he faced on two pitches, Britton allowed a double to right-center field off the bat of left-handed-hitting No. 9 batter Daniel Salters. Britton bore down after that, striking out the next batter looking on five pitches. After falling behind shortstop Willi Castro 3-0, Britton worked the count full before walking him on a borderline pitch. Britton then got a fielder’s choice groundout to second to end the inning.
“After the double, I got a little angry and started making some better pitches, but I think initially when I came today it was more so, ‘Hey, let’s get through this one and get on a plane in the morning, fly to Milwaukee.’ On that hit to the lefty, I didn’t make a good pitch, but, yeah, it takes a toll on you. At the end of spring training, you’re ready to get up north and it’s very similar.”
Pitching for four minor league affiliates — Short-A Aberdeen, Low-A Delmarva, Frederick and Double-A Bowie — Britton allowed just one run on four hits over seven innings, striking out eight and walking three.
Britton was initially scheduled to make his final rehab outing for Triple-A Norfolk, but the club had concerns about Britton getting his inning in because of threatening weather forecasts and being able to travel to Milwaukee, so he instead pitched for Frederick.
“Competition-wise, would it have been better to face Triple-A hitters?” Britton said. “Maybe, but the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues is big, too, so, and I’ve been there long enough so that I feel like I can evaluate whether or not the results, if that’s going to work in the big leagues. I think that’s what comes into effect with the self-evaluation of it. Physically, I’m right where I need to be, and even a lot of the pitches, too, are quality pitches right now, too. It’s like the end of spring training and starting over with the team.”