Joseph on Britton: “He’s getting really, really close”

To gain a more complete understanding of the improvement in reliever Zach Britton’s sinker, count the bruises on catcher Caleb Joseph.

I didn’t do it - we’re friendly, but the relationship has its limits - but he wore a few more Tuesday night after knocking down multiple pitches in the dirt in the ninth inning to keep the game tied and set up Jonathan Schoop for the walk-off single.

Britton at his best, like during the 2016 season, is a tremendous challenge for the guy squatting behind the plate. The Orioles have considered it in the past while sifting through available catchers.

Welington Castillo’s 10 passed balls in 2016 tied for the National League lead and the Orioles debated whether he might be a liability in the ninth inning in save situations. They decided to sign him, but Britton’s presence brought at least a modicum of hesitancy.

Thumbnail image for zach-britton-black-side.pngThe interest in Britton is gaining momentum this month. One person in the industry said this week that teams are noticing Britton’s increased velocity and the improvement in his sinker, which figured to happen as he worked through a period akin to spring training. Multiple scouts that I checked with are offering positive reports and ignoring the “rust,” which no longer is evident.

Britton has notched five straight scoreless outings since his blown save against the Mariners on June 27. A groundball single put him in a jam Tuesday night, but he struck out two batters and earned his first win since Sept. 5, 2017.

So let’s go back to the battered backstop and check how close Britton has gotten to his pre-surgery form.

“The last two to three outings, he’s getting really, really close,” Joseph said. “And you can tell by a lot of his swings, especially the type of contact they’re making in terms of foul balls. And of course, the swing and misses. I have arguably the best seat in the house and he’s really tough to catch right now, and that’s a really good sign.

“I think when he first came back there were flashes of his natural, normal sinker, other than just the consistency with it was taking a little bit of time. The last two or three outings, he’s thrown the majority of those good action sinkers and just a few that he may have wanted back. So he’s really, really, really close to ...”

Joseph pauses here and considers the incredibly lofty expectations placed upon Britton to pitch like the reliever who went 47-for-47 in save opportunities in 2016 and finished fourth in Cy Young voting in the American League.

Yeah, do that. Crank out historical seasons like you’re printing newspapers.

“But then again, think about it. We witnessed a perfect season,” said Joseph, both catcher and voice of reason. “It’s like, are we asking him to get back to perfection? But he’s really, really close to being exactly where he wants to be, I think. Really close.

“He is a perfectionist. He wants to throw every sinker perfect. So does everybody else.”

Britton retired all three Phillies batters he faced on July 4 and they’re in town tonight for a 6:05 p.m. makeup game, because who cares about off-days?

All three outs came on ground balls from César Hernández, Rhys Hoskins and Odúbel Herrera.

The Phillies selected Trevor Plouffe’s contract earlier this week and he’s 4-for-5 lifetime against Britton, so keep an eye on that guy.

If you want a larger sample size, there’s only Carlos Santana, who’s 3-for-11 with two doubles and five strikeouts.

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