Pondering a future return to the rotation for Zach Britton

On Memorial Day 2011, Orioles left-hander Zach Britton was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 10 starts. He looked every bit then what he was - one of the best young pitching prospects in the game.

But shoulder issues impacted his next two seasons when he posted ERAs of 5.07 and 4.95 and the once-promising pitcher came to spring training last February out of options.

But he would never be out of a job. The Orioles were confident he could pitch well when healthy and he sure did that. After a winter of tough workouts that included use of weighted baseballs to build arm strength, Britton’s heavy sinker was back in top form last year. He was hitting 97 and 98 mph on the gun.

britton-pitching-orange-front-sidebar.jpgBritton was so good and dominant at times during the 2014 season that some fans have wondered whether that stuff would play again in the rotation.

I think it could, but there are two big reasons it probably won’t happen during the coming season: Britton was too good as the closer last year and the Orioles have six candidates for five rotation spots now.

Why take from a team strength and possibly create a problem that currently does not exist?

Britton’s days as a starter may not be over for good, but they are probably over for now.

Taking over the closer’s role last season in mid-May, Britton went 3-2 with a 1.65 ERA with 37 saves in 41 chances.

He was one of three American League closers that recorded 30 or more saves with a save percentage of 90 percent or better. Kansas City’s Greg Holland saved a remarkable 95.8 percent (46-for-48) and Seattle’s Fernando Rodney saved 94.1 percent (48-for-51).

Britton’s 90.2 percent topped that of New York’s David Robertson, who was at 88.6 percent (39-of-44). Britton also had a better ERA and WHIP than Robertson, who signed a four-year deal worth $46 million with the Chicago White Sox.

You can’t fool with that success and the Orioles won’t. Britton is their closer now and despite a shaky-at-times postseason, that has not changed.

If and when Britton does get another shot to start, he will need more than the power sinker. You can’t throw one pitch to big league hitters when they see you two or three times. But Britton has other pitches he could turn to. You just don’t need them much when you have to get just three outs and your No. 1 pitch is so good.

Keep in mind how drama-free many of Britton’s saves were last year: Of his 37 saves, 32 came in 16 pitches or fewer, 28 came on 14 pitches or fewer and 23 came on 12 or fewer. He got well over half his saves in a dozen pitches or less. That was remarkable efficiency.

The Orioles need Britton in the ninth inning right now. But has the door closed to a future return to the rotation?

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