Zach Britton takes the mound for the Orioles tonight, making his fifth big league start of the 2012 season. One has been really good, but the other three have ranged from mediocre to bad.
Britton pitched six scoreless innings against Cleveland on July 22 but over his past two outings he has given up 13 runs, all earned, over 8 1/3 innings as his ERA jumped from 3.60 to 8.35.
With the O's in a playoff chase, how patient can they be with Britton and is this a big start for him tonight?
"It's an important start for our team, not for Zach," manager Buck Showalter said this afternoon. "If Zach struggles that doesn't mean the game is over and the people coming in behind him can't pitch well and we can't get back in the game. We don't have that mentality. It's not all hanging around Zach.
"He's pitched well at times and I have confidence that he will tonight. He's not wallowing around in self pity, I can tell you that. He's looking forward to competing. It's been a long four or five days for him."
Showalter was referring to Britton's start in New York last Wednesday when he gave up seven runs over just 2 2/3 innings and the Orioles went on to lose 12-3 to the Yankees.
"It's the best job in sports - starting pitcher - if you have a great outing but the worst job in sports if you have a bad day," Showalter said. "It's a tough four days. So, we'll see. Our curiousity will be satisfied shortly."
The Orioles know the lefty is capable of a lot better than he showed his past two starts. Britton was the team's leading winner last year with 11 victories and last year became just the fifth rookie American League starter to record four wins by the end of April.
But now the O's 2010 minor league pitcher of the year is trying to find that form that he showed early last year.
Britton has pitched well at home in his career, going 6-5 with a 3.48 ERA over 15 starts. Also, in his only career start vs. Seattle, last May 12, he pitched nine scoreless innings, allowing just three hits in a game the Orioles won in 12 innings.
The O's starters have worked to an ERA of just 1.00 over the last four games. Will Britton be up to the challenge tonight?