When Zach Britton was going to pitch in the first spring training game MASN did, I stopped at the minor league complex in Sarasota and talked to Dave Schmidt, the Orioles' coordinator of Sarasota operations and a former minor league pitching coordinator. Dave had seen Britton throughout and said that even when he was struggling, he figured it out at all different levels. In his first year in the minor leagues, he was 0-4 at Rookie League Bluefield, if you remember. But he just seems bright and like a great talent. It's just a matter of getting out there, not getting hurt, using your natural talent and kind of evolving as a major league pitcher.
He's got a very simple windup and he repeats it. He's not afraid of contact, which for young pitchers can sometimes be a problem. You get hit around. I always thought that coming up here and learning was that you make bad pitches and they're usually going to hit them. I had Robin Roberts to tell me that, and Harvey Haddix and Dick Hall and people like that. But I think Britton is a very aware young man with great ability. It's just a matter of staying healthy and getting out there.
We've seen him at his best, too, for the most part. In Cleveland, he had a four-run inning where they didn't hit that many balls hard and there were a couple of plays that could have gotten him a couple of quicker outs. He didn't overreact to it. He just went out there. He got behind Travis Hafner, threw him a 2-0 fastball and he crushed it. The next day, Britton said that's pretty much what you'd expect , that Travis Hafner, when healthy, is a pretty good hitter and hits left-handed pitching well. I think he's an aware kid.
What I get from him is that he doesn't think that just because he has talent, he's going to be successful. He thinks he's going to have to work at his craft. When I look at him and I look at Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Scotty McGregor and Mike Flanagan - some of the better left-handers I had a chance to pitch with - I see they were very competitive, were very good athletes. I haven't seen Britton enough to see if that's the case, but he looks like he's a pretty good fielder. It's just good to see this kind of talent level come up through the minor leagues - that type of arm and those kinds of mechanics that it looks like he's going to be able to repeat.
I probably didn't know a lot about pitching to contact until I hurt my arm. I remember sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium when I was hurt in 1968 and I was pretty much hurt for most of 1967 and 1968. I'd come to the games and couldn't really do anything and would come to the games and watch Dave McNally pitch. He kept the ball in the middle of the plate and they'd hit the ball, but the holes would close. We had Brooks Robinson at third base, Mark Belanger at short, Davey Johnson at second base, Boog Powell at first and Paul Blair in center field. It was a pretty mobile defense. But it dawned on me. I watched Pat Dobson come over in 1971 and saw him go through Oakland's lineup, and they had a terrific lineup. The first time he'd finesse them, the second time he'd blow them away and the third time, they had no idea what he was going to do.
It wasn't just about striking people out. It was about making good pitches and limiting the size of the field by fastball command. You can play a guy a couple of steps, not way overplay him, and if you have a mobile defense, when he does hit the ball, he's going to hit it into the teeth of your defense. It's kind of like the baseball version of a prevent defense in football. Otherwise, you pitch to the whole field and it makes it much harder to pitch.