As if the Orioles haven’t been faced with enough challenges in the first month or so of the season, they’ll now stare down another tough task. Zach Britton’s latest setback is a tough pill to swallow for Orioles fans, and not just those that (cough, cough) may have him on their fantasy team. It was devastating to see the dominant closer go down on April 16 with the initial indications of the forearm strain. When he was reinstated last week and made two appearances in non-save situations, something didn’t seem right. It’s easy to look back now and realize that something is the same injury that sidelined him in the first place.
Part of what bothers me about the Britton injury is that it appears that it could’ve been prevented. Every player is different and there’s no guarantee of it, but the situation at least could’ve been handled differently. The root of Britton’s injury may trace back all the way to spring training, when the left-hander dealt with an oblique injury. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has even stated that the oblique could have something to do with this recent injury. A pitcher’s motion requires the entire body, and it’s all related. There’s also something to be said for preparation and routine. Perhaps Britton’s oblique, which only allowed him to make five appearances in Grapefruit League games, also prevented him from properly getting his arm and body ready for the season. Britton’s injury is not the only one related to the offseason or spring training on this club, either.
Chris Tillman, who returned yesterday from a shoulder injury, was dealing with the same issue late last season. That injury lingered into December, when he received platelet-rich plasma injections, which backed up his timetable. It seems, at least from the outside, that the recovery was mismanaged in some way. Catcher Welington Castillo also admitted that his current neck injury, which has him shelved on the 10-day disabled list, is something that started early in the spring. He points to his desire to play in the World Baseball Classic as a contributing factor in the injury not healing properly. It’s one thing to see Jonathan Schoop sit out a few games after being hit by a pitch or having Joey Rickard go down sliding into a base, but these injuries that seem to come as a result of something else are a bit disturbing.
Aside from the potential mishandling of these injuries, the strain Britton’s injury puts on the bullpen is pretty extreme. We don’t know how long the 29-year-old will miss this time around, but any time you hear about a forearm strain, the words “Tommy John surgery” certainly creep into your mind. Britton’s MRI on Friday indicated that there is no elbow ligament damage and that he simply needs more time, but the human body is a strange thing. We really have no clue how long Britton will be out. In the meantime, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart are going to be responsible for the late-inning duties. Those four relievers already lead the team in appearances, and that workload is only going to grow.
Aside from the stalwarts in the Orioles bullpen, there are many others that are going to be forced to come through with big innings. We’ve seen some of that over the past few days with Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Wilson, Richard Bleier, Logan Verrett and Alec Asher. We’ll likely see more of it down the line with players we know about, like Mike Wright, and others we don’t know as much about like Jayson Aquino, Vidal Nuño, Stefan Crichton, Paul Fry, Edwin Jackson and Jimmy Yacabonis.
Regardless of the names, someone (likely multiple players), will have to step up in the absence of Britton. Whether he misses another two weeks, two months, or the rest of the season, he’s the type of pitcher that provides a large hole in the bullpen when he’s gone. In the meantime, the Orioles will have to live with the fact that Britton did indeed attempt to return from this injury early. They can only hope he didn’t do any further damage to the arm and that he didn’t dampen his chances of a return. They can also mix and match the pieces and the optionable arms to try and make do while he’s gone.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.