Closer Zach Britton is about to end his tour of the Orioles’ minor league affiliates.
Britton has pitched once in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League, twice in the Single-A South Atlantic League and Double-A Eastern League, and once in the Single-A Carolina League, where he retired the side in order last night on 11 pitches at Single-A Frederick.
Somehow, he managed to skip the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
Britton will return to the International League on Monday for the first time since 2013, with instructions to pitch the ninth inning at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles want to activate him from the disabled list on Wednesday while they’re in Milwaukee.
Still used as a starter in 2013, Britton went 6-5 with a 4.27 ERA in 19 games with the Tides. He was 2-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight games with the Orioles, only one of them out of the bullpen. Britton had a 1.73 WHIP in 40 innings and opponents batted .321 against him.
You know the rest of the story. The switch to reliever in 2014 with no minor league options and no defined role, followed by his insertion as the closer, two straight All-Star Game selections and a fourth-place finish in last year’s American League Cy Young voting.
Austin Wynns caught Britton’s fourth inning Thursday afternoon at Bowie. He also was behind the plate for Britton’s first rehab assignment.
Wynns told me yesterday that there was a noticeable difference in Britton “from the beginning of the year until now, as far as life on his ball.”
“These last two outings he threw, his ball is biting,” Wynns said. “It’s like he can throw it on top of the zone and it just bites. If he throws it in the middle, it will still bite. It seems like he has that life back.
“He’s always had it, but the comfort, like him feeling good after he throws. And now going back-to-back, that’s a good thing for him. But overall, his slider and his fastball, he’s ready. He needs to get back up there to help out the Orioles, for sure.”
Britton isn’t hiding how good he feels, how he no longer worries about discomfort returning in his left forearm. Wynns knows it. Anyone around him knows it.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Wynns said. “He was just so positive, so ready. His preparation, his mindset, too. He’s ready to get back up there to help.”
It didn’t take much game-planning for Wynns’ third opportunity to catch Britton, including spring training.
“His plan is simple. He wants to pound the zone and let them swing. Try to hit that ball,” Wynns said.
“The first time when he came here, we talked about it and just got a game plan. The second time, when he went out there, I knew what he wanted to do, so we were on the same page and we got it done.”
Wynns, 26, keeps making a solid impression on the Orioles for his work behind the plate, where he’s considered ready now for the majors. He began last night hitting .283/.372/.412 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 30 RBIs in 226 at-bats.
“I’m happy with how it’s going,” he said. “It’s still early. It’s only the halfway point. Still lots to do this year. I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Wynns, who cooled a bit after a torrid start, was 11-for-34 (.324) with two home runs in his last 10 games.
“It’s just baseball,” he said. “You get hot, you cool down and you’ve just got to bounce back up.”
And once in a while you catch an All-Star closer.
Dylan Bundy will be working on six days’ rest this afternoon as he makes back-to-back starts against the Rays. He allowed three runs and five hits over seven innings last Saturday at Tropicana Field, with four walks and eight strikeouts.
Bundy has completed seven innings in six of his 16 starts. He held the Rays to two runs in 6 1/3 innings on April 26 at Camden Yards.
Evan Longoria is 4-for-11 (.364) with two home runs lifetime against Bundy. Logan Morrison is 3-for-10 with a double and Tim Beckham is 2-for-4 with two home runs.
Bundy has started twice in his career with at least six days’ rest. He’s allowed five runs and nine hits in 10 1/3 innings, with three walks and 12 strikeouts. However, the 2017 season is a different animal for Bundy as he takes on a full-time role in the rotation from the outset.
The Orioles are facing Jake Odorizzi for the second time in six days. He gave up four runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings Sunday afternoon in an 8-5 loss at Tropicana Field.
Manager Buck Showalter may stick to the lineup that worked against Odorizzi, putting Joey Rickard in left field and Craig Gentry in right. Right-handers are hitting .251 against Odorizzi in his career, while left-handers are hitting .228.
The splits have spun this season, however, with right-handers batting .215 and left-handers batting .268.
Showalter also started Paul Janish at shortstop and Joseph behind the plate, and all four players made major contributions.