With the Orioles headed to a seven-day road trip, closer Zach Britton is not scheduled to pitch at Camden Yards again until at least the evening of July 31.
By then, we’ll all know whether the Orioles have decided to deal him away at the non-waiver trade deadline in an attempt to build their farm system.
If they do, then Sunday’s one-inning save against the Houston Astros in a 9-7 win could be Britton’s last in Baltimore as an Oriole. And it was significant, no matter what happens this upcoming week.
It was his first save since April 14 – due to a left lower forearm strain that put him on the shelf twice for roughly two-plus months – and it also was his 55th consecutive successful opportunity, setting the American League record previously held by Boston’s Tom Gordon in 1998-99 (saves became an official statistic in 1969).
“I guess if you are going to go out, that’s a cool way to do it. In front of the home crowd, feeling good and getting a save and a win against a good team,” said Britton, whose streak dates back to Oct. 1, 2015. “Hopefully it’s not the last (in Baltimore), but if it is, that would be, I guess, a good way to go out.”
Britton may be the Orioles’ most tradeable commodity; he’s a proven shutdown reliever who appears to be over his injury and has a contract situation that’s controllable through 2018. Contending teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and, yes, the Astros, have both interest and a need for the 29-year-old Britton.
Perhaps it was particularly fitting for Britton to convert his first save opportunity in months against a mighty Astros club that was looking for a sweep. Britton allowed a two-out walk, but he recorded two strikeouts and a ground out in the scoreless inning – fairly typical Britton.
“I think it just feels good to put together an outing where I actually felt like I was more myself than anything,” said Britton, who previously had allowed four total runs in seven, one-run outings since he came off the disabled list July 5. “I think maybe it took a two-run ballgame to do that. Just get the focus back off the delivery and trying to be too fine. Just kind of let it rip. It was good to get out there and beat a good team.”
In discussing the record, Britton gave credit to setup men Darren O’Day and Brad Brach, who also have had their names mentioned as potential trade chips. If Britton were to be traded, Brach likely would take over as Orioles closer, a spot he held while Britton was hurt. Although, it’s possible both could be moved — if the Orioles are truly looking to be sellers – and Mychal Givens and O’Day would become the leading closer candidates.
At this point, Britton was simply focused on pitching like he has in the past.
“I never thought I could put together something like that at this level with how good these guys are. I’ll reflect on it eventually. I just want to get back to pitching like myself consistently,” said Britton, who trails only Eric Gagne, who saved 84 straight for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002-04, for the big league record. “Get in the game and help the team win the games I get in to pitch. That is always been the goal. Just never be the reason the team loses. Sometimes you are, but you know I’m on a good roll and there are a lot of things too that have helped me get where I am.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he believes he saw the Britton of the past on Sunday.
“He looked like he was in element there, finally. You know, it’s been a long haul to get back there. He was the last real piece for us to able to get back and really be able to put (together) what I think is just a really good bullpen if we can get deeper in games,” Showalter said. “It can be huge for us if that happens, because I think the bullpen will be in really good shape. We’ll be able to pass the load around, too.”
The major question, of course, is does the bullpen makeup change within the next week.
Bundy gives up two homers; getting extra rest
Right-hander Dylan Bundy was solid on Sunday afternoon – and then he wasn’t.
Two innings he ran into trouble, and both times he cracked, allowing three-run homers. Jose Altuve hit one in the third and Nori Aoki smacked one in the sixth.
Otherwise, Bundy was fine, but you can’t dismiss two big homers that gave back a three-run lead each time. Bundy knows that’s not tolerable, and said he was fortunate the results weren’t worse.
“Stuff-wise, I was just leaving stuff over the middle of the plate today,” he said. “I was kind of lucky they only hit two homers off me.”
Bundy was pitching on four days’ rest after allowing just one run in six innings in his first start of the second half Tuesday.
The Orioles gave him 11 days’ rest in between those two starts, a luxury allowed by the All-Star break. Showalter said they are going to give him another break this week – taking advantage of Thursday’s off day, and starting him “probably” five days after that. So, he’d be on eight days’ rest if he pitches next on Aug. 1.
“It will be kind of easing the throttle a little bit so that we can push it again if we need to,” Showalter said. “I know about where I think he’s going to end up if he stays on schedule. Very happy with where he is right now physically and with the innings. He feels about as good as what he’s felt in a long time.”
Bundy said after his outing Sunday that he was unaware of that upcoming schedule.
“I didn’t know anything about that,” he said. “I am just going to throw my bullpen when I am supposed to and throw in the game when I am supposed to and give the team all I got. That’s all I can do, you know.”.
The schedule tweaking is an attempt to keep the 24-year-old Bundy’s innings down while not having him actually skip starts. He threw a career-high of 109 2/3 (in 2016) last year and is now at and he’s now at 119 1/3 innings with two months to go.
Showalter said the Orioles would like to keep his innings around 180, but “you can still make adjustments in September if you need to.”
Given the state of the rotation, the Orioles obviously need Bundy this year and beyond, so being careful with him makes sense, whatever that plan may be.
Jimenez starts Wednesday
I know a lot of you people live and die – especially die — with this, so here goes: Ubaldo Jimenez (4-6, 7.19 ERA) will make his next start for the Orioles, which is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Tampa Bay.
Kevin Gausman starts Monday and Wade Miley on Tuesday against the division rival Rays.
Jimenez is 5-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 10 career starts against the Rays and 2-3 with a 6.67 ERA in five starts at Tropicana Field. He’s faced them twice this year – once at home, once on the road – and didn’t get out of the fourth in either contest. He’s lasted a combined 5 2/3 innings in those games and allowed 12 earned runs (a 19.06 ERA).
Just thought you should know. Be kind to the messenger.