Although it took him a few years to get there, a starting pitcher who took the Majors by storm three years ago has finally found his calling.
Before the start of the 2011 season, Zach Britton was named the 2nd-best prospect in the Orioles organization. Five days in to the start of the season, with Brian Matusz going down with an injury, Britton was called up to the big-league roster. Through his first ten career starts, Britton owned a 5-2 record with a 2.35 ERA, giving up one run or less in six of those starts. It seemed as if Britton would join the ranks of the all-time great Oriole pitchers.
Britton floundered in the last four months of the season (which included a short-stint in the minors) and finished the year with a 4.61 ERA. 2012 and 2013 were not much better, with ERAs of 5.07 and 4.95, respectively. Britton battled through shoulder injuries these two years, throwing only 100 innings between the two seasons. After getting healthy before the start of the 2014 season, Britton was excited to make the Orioles roster–as a reliever.
On opening day, Britton entered a 1-1 game after starter Chris Tillman went five innings. Britton threw two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and needing only 21 pitches. Thanks to a Nelson Cruz home run in the bottom of the seventh, Britton earned his first career win as a reliever. He hasn’t looked back.
To date, Britton has thrown 20.1 innings for the Orioles this year. He owns a 0.89 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and 3-0 win/loss record. He has struck out 15 batters and has allowed just one home run. The Orioles have counted on him in many big spots this year, as evidenced by his 7 holds, second most in the Majors. Britton earned his 7th hold for the Orioles last night, throwing a perfect 8th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 ballgame. Because of his knack at getting batters out, Britton isn’t simply a one-and-done type of pitcher like some left-handed relievers. The 26 year-old has recorded at least three outs in 12 of his 15 appearances this year.
Thanks in part to Zach Britton’s brilliance out of the pen this year, the Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East. If Britton can stay healthy and keep pitching like he’s pitching, it would be no surprise to see the Orioles playing October baseball.