This piece is premature. No argument about that.
But when someone who is as important to a baseball team as Zach Britton is to the Orioles leaves a game with an injury, the immediate question is, “What happens now?”
The good news is if the Orioles closer has to be shelved for any length of time due to the left ankle sprain he suffered in the ninth inning Saturday, the Orioles have several relievers who likely could handle the responsibility.
“I think Zach’s the best in the game, so it would be a tough period without him,” eighth inning set-up man Darren O’Day said. “We’ve got guys that have done the job before. So, yeah, it was a bad night, but if you look at the body of work we’ve put together, we have a lot of confidence. So we’ll figure something out.”
The bad news, though, is that if Britton is shelved for a while, the 2016 Orioles take a direct hit to their biggest strength, a stout bullpen.
Although manager Buck Showalter never likes to talk about his ‘what if’ plans until he has to reveal them – and it is too early for that declaration – you’d have to assume O’Day would slide into the closer’s role for however long he would be needed.
The 33-year-old O’Day has never been a designated closer in the majors, but he’s handled the role on a temporary basis. Last year, he had six saves in 11 opportunities, but he was only called on four times in traditional, ninth-inning save chances in 2015, all in September when Britton was dealing with a strained lat muscle.
O’Day converted all four of those chances, and converted his only ninth-inning opportunity this year on April 7.
Brad Brach, who has allowed just two runs in 14 1/3 innings this season, has always been considered a potential future closer. And Mychal Givens, a lights-out closer at Double-A Bowie last year, certainly has the stuff to do it.
So, yeah, maybe the Orioles would be fine without Britton. But his absence would take O’Day out of the eighth-inning role and Brach away from the seventh and Givens out of the sixth. One of the things that makes this bullpen so good is the way Showalter can offer so many different looks to the opposition in the late innings.
These guys all have different styles but fairly set roles and, for the most part, stay in them. They all know when they’re supposed to pitch, begin to stretch, begin to throw warm-ups, etc.
Losing the anchor of the bullpen would certainly cause a ripple effect there.
It’s possible that Britton sits out Sunday and will be ready to resume his duties Tuesday against the New York Yankees. He is currently listed as day-to-day – and that is encouraging, of course.
But this is a Showalter team. Contingency plans are likely already in place.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” O’Day said. “He’s a tough guy so, we’ll find out more about that.”