Players are taking their physicals before heading out to the field around noon. Darren O’Day will be shaving off his beard.
Zach Britton was sitting at his locker as the media ventured inside the clubhouse, joking that it was unintentional and he couldn’t run away from us. He could have walked, however, as his recovery continues from right Achilles surgery.
There’s no sign of the injury or the procedure unless Britton lowers his sock to reveal the scar. His third checkup with Dr. Kenneth Jung in Los Angeles produced more encouraging news and he could begin throwing by the weekend. He’ll wear a protective boot on the foot as a precaution, but won’t require a brace.
“It’s OK, it’s going well,” he said. “I’ve been here for the last three days. Saw the doctor on Friday and flew out here. It’s been going well.
“We obviously have a lot of things here that we didn’t have when I was at physical therapy. We have different devices. We have an underwater treadmill and I think all of those things will speed up the recovery. So far, the last few days have been great and we’ll see how this week kind of finishes out and then we go into the weekend and maybe start throwing in the boot and things like that.”
Britton said Jung doesn’t believe in “a set schedule,” so flexibility will be important in the ankle and his routine.
“The time fame for the healing was 12 weeks for the ligament to be completely healed from the surgery,” he said. “Your chance of re-rupturing from doing athletic (activities) went down to pretty much nothing. So right now, there’s still that chance if you fell awkwardly or did box jumps for some stupid reason that you’d injure yourself again, so once the 12 weeks is up, I’ll be cleared to do a lot more baseball related things.”
The boot brings a sense of confidence.
“If (Jung) was like, ‘Just go ahead and throw without the boot on,’ I’d be a little bit hesitant, maybe run the risk of hurting myself, but we’re not going to be throwing that far for the first week just to kind of get a feel for putting my weight over that front foot a little bit more, and then I’ll be able to get out of the boot after that with ankle tape,” Britton said.
“I’m not going to wear a brace, which is good news. The doctor said, ‘This isn’t something you need a brace (for). Once it’s healed, it’s healed. You don’t need a brace. You don’t need to worry about anything you’re doing other than getting your strength back.’ So I’m not as worried throwing in the boot as I would be out of it.”
Though Britton has insisted that a May return is a realistic goal, he’s not going to rush the process. He acknowledged the fear attached to it.
“Maybe a little bit initially,” he said. “I was scared to put weight on it, scared to walk on it, especially after the last time I put weight on it I ruptured it, so I think I’ve gotten over a lot of those mental hurdles.
“There’s still going to be some. Fielding my position is going to be a big challenge, I think, mentally for me. Physically, I’ll probably be ready to do it. Mentally, covering first and things like that. But my understanding is the pitching part of it is one of the last stressful things I’m going to do on it. It’s the fielding the position and running to first base that’s really going to stress the Achilles out and be a test for me whenever I get around to that.”
Britton won’t be tucked away in the trainer’s room and on the back fields. He intends to immerse himself in the camp.
“I still plan to be involved,” he said. “I’m going to be with the team hopefully pretty quickly in the season and I want to be a part. Hopefully, this isn’t my last year here, but I want to enjoy the spring.
“Obviously, I’m not going to have a spring, which stinks, but enjoy it because I don’t know if I’ll be here next year. I think I can help out a lot of these other guys. I’m not going to getting ready for the season right now, so I think I actually have a chance to maybe step back a little bit.
“You’re kind of a little selfish at this point in the season. Normally, you’re getting ready for the season. Right now, I’m doing my physical therapy and trying to get back on the field. Guys like Tanner Scott right next to me, I can pick his brain a little bit more maybe than I would have normally, help him out. There’s some other guys, too, I can help out, but I’ll be watching, ragging some guys out on the field. I’ll definitely be involved.”
Britton didn’t have a normal spring training last year due to a sore oblique, so he’s on an unfortunate roll. He was forced on the disabled list twice with stiffness in his left forearm/elbow area, but it’s no longer an issue.
“I feel good,” he said. “The arm coming around will be pretty quick from what I understand. I was throwing when I got hurt, so I had about 2 1/2 weeks of throwing. It’s been over five, six weeks since I’ve thrown, so I’ll kind of start over a little bit. But by the time my camp’s over, my arm should be in shape. It’s just a matter of where I’m at based on long toss or building my way up to a mound and being able to throw bullpens and things like that.
“That’s a little down the road, but we’ll see in mid-March where I’m at whether I’m (throwing) off the mound yet and that will give me a better idea of how much I’m going to need to get back. There are so many things I need to cover, but so far it’s been really good. I think the throwing aspect this week in the boot will be a good test kind of mentally where I’m at.”
Britton doesn’t know where he’ll be pitching in 2019. His contract runs out and there haven’t been any extension talks. The injury isn’t an excuse. Contracts are backburner issues beyond signing arbitration-eligible players for the upcoming season.
“It would be nice,” Britton said of the possibility of staying in Baltimore. “I’ve been here since I was 18 years old. It would be really weird to be in another clubhouse in a different uniform.
“I think my situation is the same as a lot of other guys. A lot of guys in here would like to be back. It’s just about the opportunity. A lot of us haven’t been presented with the opportunity to even consider coming back at this point. I’m sure there will be some talks at some point and we’ll go from there. But I don’t even have anything to consider at this point. I’m kind of in the same boat as a lot of guys.”
Asked whether he senses that the Orioles want to keep him, Britton replied, “That’s a tough question. I think they absolutely would like to have a lot of guys back. Whether or not that’s realistic contract-wise, I don’t know. But I think they would love to keep a lot of guys here who they’ve had here for a long time. I just don’t know where they see the organization going next year.”
Many players deflect questions about their professional futures. Britton met them head-on and with his usual humor.
“I’ve got nothing else to do.”
Note: Former Orioles outfielder Alejandro De Aza and infielder Chris Johnson, who played last summer at Triple-A Norfolk, will attend the free agent camp in Bradenton.