Lauren Tilley: Zach Britton’s wild ride

Zach Britton has had a tumultuous rookie year with the Orioles. He expected to begin this season in the minors until an unfortunate injury to Brian Matusz caused Britton to make his debut at the major league level a night later. In that debut, he went six innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the Rays to allow the O’s to sweep Tampa Bay in the first series of the season. From there, he went 5-2 over 7 starts with a 2.93 ERA. Pretty good for a rookie. At this point, everyone was talking about Britton - and not just us fans in Charm City.

The O’s were being discussed on ESPN and not just for being bad. Britton was the center point in early American League Rookie of the Year Award debates. Everyone thought this guy was the future ace of the Orioles staff and we were all thinking how “lucky” it was that Matusz got injured because we never would have known (not that I’m glad Matusz got hurt because he hasn’t been the same since).

Then came three no-decisions in which the team won two of those three games. Following that, one win and six losses over the last nine starts, which has brought his ERA to a 4.56. He’s spent time in the minors to lessen his innings pitched as well as to give him time to recover from some pretty brutal outings (one inning total in two starts against the Red Sox and Yankees where he gave up 13 hits and 17 runs, 13 earned). Then he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Last night, Britton made his first start since Aug. 4 against Kansas City; a 5 1/3-inning outing that resulted in 12 hits and six runs (four earned) for the loss. Britton showed the beginning-of-the-season southpaw that we all know, love and discussed fervently in April and May. Although he only pitched five innings, he threw 98 pitches and allowed only six hits and one run while walking four and striking out four.

Most importantly, he got every big out he needed to. The one run he allowed came after a single and a double on an RBI groundout. After that, he issued two straight passes to load the bases with two outs and he got the newest member of the 600-home run club, Jim Thome, to fly out. Again, in the bottom of the fifth, he got into some trouble allowing a double and a walk with two outs and again got Thome, this time on a beautiful fastball that froze him.

With his good outing, great poise on the mound in stressful situations and his first win since June 8, all signs point to Britton going back to his old form. He got ahead of hitters early and was able to stay out of the middle of the plate for the first time in a long time, painting the corners perfectly. This is one concrete positive that the Orioles and fans finally have to look forward to. He will be a part of the starting staff for the next few years - you can count on that - and if we have the Britton like we had tonight, I think it’s safe to say he will be the guy counted on to win every time he’s on the mound.

Oh and another positive and surprising note from last night’s game: Kevin Gregg entered the ninth inning with a three-run lead to pitch a perfect inning to get the save and allow the O’s (and Britton) to get the win and end their five-game losing streak.

Lauren Tilley blogs about the Orioles for Birds Watcher, and her thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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