Britton looking forward to talking pitching instead of surgery

Orioles closer Zach Britton has thrown three full-mound bullpen sessions at Camden Yards and he’s going to have a bigger audience this week while he’s in Anaheim.

Zach Britton throwing gray.pngDr. Kenneth Jung, who performed the surgery in December to repair Britton’s ruptured Achilles, will watch him throw on Wednesday with head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and give his final “blessing,” as the left-hander worded it with a chuckle.

One of Jung’s offices overlooks center field at Angel Stadium, so it’s a short walk to the workout.

“At that time, he’s going to probably look at the surgery, look at the Achilles, watch me run, throw, and then I believe he can give me his clearance,” Britton said. “He can knight me and say that I’m able to go on a rehab assignment, or at least clear me to go ahead and he doesn’t need to see me anymore.”

And you thought Sidney Ponson was the only knight in the Orioles family.

Britton threw twice off a half-mound before graduating to a regular bullpen session. He’s been performing all of the fielding drills and is just waiting to take his progression to the next level.

“I still need to throw three or four or five more bullpens and then be ready to face some hitters and stuff like that,” he said. “The next few weeks will be a good test of where I’m at pitching-wise, because I know physically with the Achilles I’m right where I need to be and now it’s just about getting the focus back into pitching and not anything going on with the Achilles.

“That will be the biggest transition, just getting back into competition.”

The Orioles arranged for Britton to rest yesterday and today before long-tossing on Tuesday. He’s eager to move beyond the bullpen and the obsession with his surgery and simply become a pitcher again.

It probably will happen with the Orioles sometime in early June, though he’s eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28. Get the rehab and minor league assignment out of the way and return the backend of the bullpen to a more normal state.

“I talked to Roger (McDowell) about it yesterday,” he said. “Darren O’Day was out there, too, with me, and Ebel and Alan Mills. I think the first couple pitches I threw, I didn’t command it like I wanted to. Darren said, ‘Yeah, it looks like you’re landing kind of soft.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, cause everyone’s always asking me, how’s the foot, how’s the foot?’ And then finally I kind of just got like pissed off a little bit and he said it started to come out like normal, which was really good.”

The process always has been as much mental as physical.

“It was just something to think about,” he said. “Like, OK, just making sure I’m not landing soft. I’m really driving off my back side and OK with putting the weight on it, which I know I am.

“I think it’s just something when everyone keeps asking you about it, it’s all you think about. So now, I was talking with Roger yesterday just about transition into pitching now. Like, let’s focus on getting me into game shape and what I would do in the spring and get the focus away from the Achilles.

“I think that’s where my mindset is going to be from here on out.”

The Orioles have plenty of time to figure out how to fit Britton into their bullpen. In the meantime, they made room yesterday for Mark Trumbo’s return to the 25-man roster by optioning Joey Rickard to Triple-A Norfolk. Trumbo will be activated Tuesday.

Rickard was a temporary addition based on the desire to get back to a four-man bench and to have another right-handed bat while the Tigers started left-handers Francisco Liriano and Daniel Norris. It also was a reward for Rickard tearing up the International League.

He’ll be back.

Luis Sardiñas will go on the disabled list with a sore lower back, whether it’s announced today or prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Angels. Engelb Vielma, who’s already on the 40-man roster, will join the team unless there’s a sudden and unexpected change in plans.

The Orioles need a utility infielder on the bench while Jace Peterson serves as the regular second baseman. He might need to shift over to third base if Danny Valencia’s hamstring is still bothering him this week.

Manager Buck Showalter sounded confident yesterday that Valencia would avoid the disabled list. Warmer weather in Anaheim should prove beneficial.

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