Zach Britton Feeling Physically, Mentally Healthy For 2013 Season
When pitchers and catchers report to Orioles camp on Feb. 11, one Orioles hurler in particular will be hoping to make up for lost time.
And for Zach Britton, getting through camp healthy could be an important first step toward a breakout season.
A 25-year-old left-hander, Britton had a tumultuous sophomore season in 2012. Expected to compete for a rotation spot during spring training, Britton's health betrayed him from the beginning as he reported shoulder pain shortly after arriving at camp. Britton was placed on the disabled list before the team left Sarasota, Fla., suffering from a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder.
"I didn't have an offseason last year," Britton said. "I didn't have a spring training, and it's kind of hard to be successful when you don't get time to prepare yourself for a major league season."
It wasn't until May 26 that he took the mound for the first time, making three rehab starts for Double-A Bowie and then spending more than a month in Triple-A Norfolk. When Britton made his 2012 Orioles debut on July 17, he wasn't the same pitcher who had dazzled fans during his rookie season and forced his way onto the 2011 Opening Day roster. His patented power sinker was off-kilter, and his control was nonexistent. During his first start, he surrendered six walks during four innings against the Twins. He gave up 24 runs during his first five starts before the Birds demoted him back to the Tides.
On Aug. 18, the injury-stricken Orioles called up Britton for an emergency start in Detroit, and he gutted through 7.0 scoreless innings, the first of four consecutive superb outings during which he went 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA. It seemed Britton was back on track. But just as quickly as he'd returned, he faltered again, struggling badly during his next two outings and getting banished to the bullpen for the rest of the year. All told, he finished the season with a 5.07 ERA for the Birds.
Britton said he thought his 2012 struggles stemmed just as much from his mind as they did his shoulder.
"I think mentally I was still injured, if that makes sense," he said. "There's times when you're out on the mound and you're wondering, 'Hey, on this pitch, am I going to start hurting again or not?' And I'm not even focused on getting hitters out. If I'm focused on how my arm's doing, it's going to be very hard to be successful. It took me a little while to get over that."
Going into 2013, Britton vows that he has cleared all hurdles, both mentally and physically.
"I think I'm in a really good spot right now," Britton said. "My arm feels like it's the way it should feel. I feel healthy now, and I know when I'm healthy -- I showed in the end of 2011 -- I can do very well at the major league level. I've just got to get to that point again where I'm healthy and commanding the baseball."
Britton's road to a starting job got a little tougher with the Orioles' recent signing of Jair Jurrjens, who will join a crowded battle of contenders for what may be just one available rotation spot. But if Britton is back at 100 percent and can return to the promising form he showed two years ago, he'll force his way onto the roster sooner or later.
Posted Jan. 28, 2013