New Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace has reached out to a handful of starters and relievers on the staff, talking to some over the phone and leaving messages for others.
Zach Britton figures to be one of Wallace’s projects in spring training, and they had a brief conversation a few weeks ago.
“It was just a quick call, kind of a touching-base thing,” Britton said. “He introduced himself and told me that he’d give me a call back fairly soon, kind of discuss things a little more specific, things I think that I need to work on. My strengths, where I’m at right now, how do we get me back to being successful more consistently. Things like that. We’ll talk in more detail and maybe get to talk face-to-face if that’s possible.”
Manager Buck Showalter brought up Britton’s name a few times while praising the additions of Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, saying how the left-hander could benefit from a fresh start and fresh sets of eyes.
“Definitely,” said Britton, who turns 26 next month. “Any time you have an opportunity to work with someone new, you never know what to expect to an extent, but you do your own research. You look at where they’ve been. The Braves always had a good history of developing pitchers. You hope they can bring whatever they were doing there to make those guys successful and make it work out for you.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say. Having an outsider looking at me should definitely be a benefit. When you’re around somebody a long time, you feel sometimes that you’re not as open... I just think a fresh look is always good, especially with the situation that I’m in.”
That “situation” includes, but it not restricted to, being out of minor league options.
“Next year is important for me, and not just because I’m out of options,” said Britton, who’s 18-17 with a 4.77 ERA in parts of three major league seasons and has won only seven games since 2011.
“You get older and you get to the point where you want to be consistent in the big leagues. This is an important time when this needs to happen, and anybody you bring in to help is going to be huge. I hope he can help me.”
It will be one of Wallace’s most important tasks after pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 13.
“He sounds like he’s really excited to get to work with all of us,” Britton said. “I did some research on my own when he was hired. I called (former Orioles pitcher) Jair Jurrjens, who was with him in Atlanta, and he had a lot of good things to say about him. He said I should look forward to working with him. He’s got an old-school approach.
“J.J. thinks it will be a big benefit for me and I’ll really like (Wallace). I respect J.J.’s opinion. Now I’m really excited to work with him.”
Britton could use a drama-free spring training. He was hampered by inflammation and weakness in his left shoulder in March of 2012, received two platelet-rich plasma injections from Dr. James Andrews and went on the disabled list. Though healthy in 2013, he allowed seven runs and 13 hits in 10 1/3 exhibition innings, with four walks, seven strikeouts and two home runs. Any chance he had to break camp with the team went out the door, and straight to Twin Lakes Park.
One reason why Britton hasn’t stayed in the majors is his inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis. He walked 32 batters and struck out 53 in 60 1/3 innings last year, and he registered 17 walks and 18 strikeouts in 40 innings this season.
“You kind of forget everything that’s happened in the past, the ups and downs you’ve had, and just focus on, ‘Hey, if I get an opportunity this year...” Britton said. “There are new (coaches) coming in. Obviously, Buck has seen me when I’ve been really good and when I’ve been really bad. He knows I can do it. It’s just a matter of doing it consistently. I’ve got to find a way to do that, whether that’s with the advice from Wallace or something else.
“A lot of it has to come from you, taking the steps yourself. A pitching coach can only do so much, even Rick Adair. He wasn’t out there pitching. He could only guide you in a better direction that you should go in. Then, it’s up to the player to listen to that advice or do their own thing.
“For me, it’s just about getting confident all the way through. When you’re up and down, you lose a little confidence here and there. If you want to be successful in the big leagues, you’ve got to believe in yourself, no matter the situation you’re in. When you get sent down to the minors a lot, you’ve got to make sure your confidence is there.
“The ability is there. It’s not that. It’s about the mental aspect, believing in yourself. You look at some of the things that I’ve had - injuries, struggles, being sent down and brought back up. Being on that train to Norfolk, I think sometimes it wears on you. You’ve got to not focus on that and just focus on being successful.”
And try to ignore all the chatter about the Orioles needing to add another starter.
They remain interested in Bronson Arroyo and would like to re-sign Scott Feldman. Jason Hammel remains a possibility. And there are others.
Gavin Floyd’s agent, Michael Moye, told MLBTradeRumors yesterday that the Severna Park native escalated his throwing program to three sets at 180 feet this week and is experiencing almost no soreness following surgery in May to repair the ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. The Orioles are intrigued by Floyd every offseason - it’s my traditional Winter Meetings story - and they will continue to check his health and availability.
You know how executive vice president Dan Duquette likes to bring in local guys, and scout Dean Albany is a huge supporter of Floyd, who pitched on his Oriolelanders team.
Britton’s path to the Orioles rotation isn’t a clear one.
“Obviously, last year I was worried,” Britton said. “I’ve been in that situation where you pitch well, but since I had options, I was sent down. I pitched bad and got sent down. Not having options now, you look at it a little differently. But I know there’s a little more pressure to perform.
“You want to put yourself in a situation where if you don’t make the Orioles, you’re in a position to make a team somewhere else. There’s a little more pressure. Now is the time to light a fire under yourself and go out there and perform.”
Note: The Orioles must set their 40-man roster by midnight. Once it’s done, only players acquired from outside the organization may be added to it before the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 12.
The Orioles currently have 32 players on their 40-man roster, so there’s plenty of room.