Britton is back, and maybe better than ever

SARASOTA, Fla. - If we could name a Most Valuable Oriole for the first week of workouts, I'd cast my vote for left-hander Zach Britton.

And then we would discuss how it's a ridiculous award, considering that the Orioles haven't played a single game, intrasquad or otherwise, and I'm basing it exclusively on two bullpen sessions and one warmup.

That's still good enough for me.

Britton has been exceptional on the side, popping the catcher's mitt while keeping the ball down in the strike zone. He routinely hit his target yesterday. He's healthy and he's going to make a strong push for that last spot in the rotation.

A year ago, Britton couldn't pop a zit because of the weakness and soreness in his shoulder. Rather than receive a cortisone shot in March, Britton agreed to undergo two injections of platelet-rich plasma that renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews recommended to him after studying the results of an MRI. It was considered a more natural way for the body to heal itself, but the recovery time would be prolonged.

Cliché alert: What a difference a year makes.

"I'm really happy," Britton said yesterday after returning to the clubhouse following his bullpen session. "I knew that I put in a lot of good work with Brady (Anderson). I think it was just a matter of time. Dr. Andrews told me that some guys are different with that injection, some guys might take a little longer, and I felt like I was that way the whole season. Never really felt like I do right now. The arm speed that I have now is a lot different from last year, a lot improved, so it feels good. I'm happy with where I'm at.

"I was actually a little bit surprised my first couple of bullpens, how the ball was coming out, but that's how I felt when everything was going good a couple of years ago. I think if anything, it gives you confidence. You start to feel good about yourself again. You stop doubting. 'Am I healthy? Can I do this?' I feel confident and it's going to help me, especially with the competition that we have."

There's lots of competition, and Britton is in the thick of it.

He was 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 28 starts in 2011. He was 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) last year, and 4-2 with a 4.91 ERA in nine starts with Triple-A Norfolk.

Yeah, a year can really make a difference.

Briton could return to the Tides in April. He could break camp with the team.

The only thing I'm sure about right now is he's a much different pitcher this spring compared to last year at this time. And in my little section of spring training, that's worthy of a weekly award.

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