Zach Britton returned to his locker in the Orioles’ clubhouse this afternoon with sweat pouring down his forehead. A teammate draped a towel over his shoulder for later, after the media was done with him.
Fifteen pitches thrown to Craig Gentry in batting practice followed stretching exercises and tosses in the outfield. He still had to complete fielding drills before he could catch his breath and bask in the air conditioning.
Nothing that Britton has done since his Achilles surgery suggests that his return will be delayed beyond the schedule mapped out for him. The recovery, the rehabbing and now the chance to face a hitter and test his pitches.
“Good, went well,” said manager Buck Showalter. “He took PFP’s afterward. I think that’s the only thing that got him winded, the heat and humidity.
“We’re getting closer to that day when he goes out and pitches on rehab, so it’s been encouraging, but you always do it with a little baited breath. I think we’re getting closer to the point where he’s just thinking about pitching and getting people out instead of the other things that go through your mind. We all know there’s a stage you’ll never get completely to until you face hitters up here in a game.”
Britton will take off two days before his next batting practice session, expected to total 30 pitches over two “innings.” A simulated game will be arranged for him early next week in Chicago.
A rehab assignment could begin after the Orioles return from their three-city trip to Boston, Chicago and St. Petersburg, Fla. He’s eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28 and the Orioles have suggested that early June is a reasonable goal.
In Britton’s absence, Brach Brach as totaled five saves to lead the club. Darren O’Day registered two before going on the disabled list with a hyperextended right elbow. Mychal Givens earned his first career save in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Rays.
Britton could be eased back into the role upon his return.
“Would you close him the first time out?” Showalter said. “Just throw him out there. And if he pitches poorly, do you never pitch him again. I mean, where’s it stop? I don’t know. I hope we get to that point.”
Asked how much the club has missed Britton, Showalter replied, “I don’t know. It’s not something we talk about.
“One of the best closers in baseball. I’m a little biased. I think he’s the best. He makes your team better. He’s a really good pitcher that we haven’t been able to have on our team. It makes things have a lot better flow in the bullpen, but try not to talk about it too much.”
O’Day is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday, but it’s not happening.
“I’m hoping that tomorrow’s throwing goes well and we’re thinking about it not too long after that,” Showalter said. “He’s making progress.”
Michael Saunders exercised the opt-out clause in his contract that I referenced on Monday. He’s no longer in the organization.
Saunders batted .161/.291/.253 with one home run in 25 games at Triple-A Norfolk. He mainly was used as the designated hitter.
The Orioles had no plans to select his contract and his opt-out date arrived today. He signed a minor league deal on April 2 after being released by the Pirates and Royals earlier this year.
Food Network personality Giada De Laurentiis threw out the ceremonial first pitch to reliever Richard Bleier. She wore and Orioles cap and jersey with her name on the back.
Looked like a strike to me. Bleier framed it nicely.
“I did play baseball when I was young. When I was young,” she said. “That was a long time ago. And I tried to practice, but I couldn’t find a baseball.”
De Laurentiis is set to open “GDL Italian by Giada” a restaurant at Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, later this month.