Fox talks about Britton

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Minnesota Twins are coming here from Fort Myers. Better that they make the trip than me.

The lineup hasn't been posted, and the Orioles closed the clubhouse to the media at 8:30 a.m. for a players association meeting. Bobby Bonilla and Phil Bradley are in the house.

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Left-hander Brian Matusz is starting for the Orioles today. Adrian Rosario, Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Jeremy Accardo, Clay Rapada and Josh Rupe also are slated to pitch.

The Twins are sending pitchers Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond, Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama and former Oriole Jim Hoey.

Jake Fox was behind the plate for Zach Britton's Grapefruit League debut yesterday in Clearwater. Britton admitted to being a bundle of nerves on the mound, though he blanked the Phillies over two innings and struck out Ryan Howard.

"He was jumpy just from the start, even before the game started," Fox said. "It was a pretty big deal for him. You could tell coming out there that he was a little bit amped up. I caught one of his bullpens, and the way he was throwing, everything was 100 miles-per-hour. You could tell that everything was everywhere and I just wanted to get him loosened up a little bit.

"The one thing people realize being around me is I'm a pretty loose guy. I have fun and I work hard, and I think if you do those two things - you work hard and you have fun - everything else will take care of itself. So I went out to talk to him, and I was going to say something important and serious, but then I saw the look on his face and I knew that nothing was going to register because he was all jittery. I just told him a joke to see if it would loosen him up a little bit.

"I was impressed with him. He pitched really, really well yesterday. It's difficult as a catcher to really help a pitcher like that because he's got so much movement on the ball. Even he doesn't know from one pitch to the next which way it's going to move, so it's really hard as a catcher to help a pitcher like that other than to say, 'OK, calm down, get your stuff over.' There's really not much you can do physically to steal strikes. You've just got to let him go out and pitch his game.

"What I liked most about him was he wasn't afraid, he wasn't scared. He was nervous, but he came right after guys. There were some big names in that lineup we faced yesterday and he came right after them and said, 'Here's my best stuff. Hit it.' I liked that a lot. That kid's got...I don't know if you can print this word, but he's got some (I can't print the word) and he came right after them. I really liked that."

Britton got ground balls on four of his six outs.

"He could pitch right now in the big leagues," Fox said. "Do I think there's room for improvement? Yes. There's room for improvement with everybody. But he's got great stuff. Now, it's just a matter of learning what he's doing with it and learning how to pitch with it.

"Yesterday, we just came out and were pumping fastballs at everybody. We mixed in a few sliders, but basically it was just pumping fastballs, and that shows you how good his fastball is when he's throwing just fastballs to those guys and they still can't hit it. Imagine that kind of stuff and mixing in a second and third pitch. I mean, that's going to be devastating. So he could pitch now, but his ceiling is higher than most guys. He just has to reach it."

I wasn't going to end this interview without hearing the joke and passing it on to you. Here it is:

"It was a dumb one, but it was the only one I came up with off the top of my head," Fox said. "I walked out and said, 'Hey, I've got a joke for you.' He looked at me all serious, and I go, 'A sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'I'm sorry, we don't serve food here.'

"Nothing. It was crickets. I was like, 'All right man, just come on, let's get this guy out.'"

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