Orioles closer Zach Britton, who was extremely pleased with his recovery from a season-ending knee injury, ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon while running sprints Tuesday in California and will have surgery Thursday.
There is no specific timetable for recovery yet — Britton will know more after foot specialist Dr. Kenneth Jung of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles performs surgery Thursday morning — but it is expected he likely won’t be able to pitch until roughly June or later. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the recovery time will be about six months.
“I don’t know how many months. I’ll probably know a little more after tomorrow,” Britton said in a telephone interview. “I’ll do everything I can do to make it on the shorter end, obviously. The fact I’m a pitcher makes it likely I can get back a little bit quicker.”
Britton, whose season was cut short due to a knee injury that required an injection in September, has been working out at the Boras Corporation facility in California all offseason. He felt like he was making great strides and had no knee or forearm pain (he also missed time last season due to a left forearm strain). He had been playing catch this month and was about to begin bullpen sessions.
The Achilles injury occurred during routine conditioning work, Britton said. He was running sprints on a grass field and pushed off on his right leg, like normal. He suddenly felt a searing pain, while those he was training with heard a pop.
“I didn’t hear (the pop). But it felt like somebody kicked me in the back of the calf, kicked me in the leg. Other guys heard it,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was doing anything crazy, it was a straight forward sprint.”
Britton was examined Wednesday by Jung, who confirmed the rupture and recommended surgery. Britton said the drive back was one of the worst he’s ever experienced.
“The way home, me and my wife cried the whole time. It’s just about how much work I’ve put into getting back, it’s not about if the team may release me or anything like that,” Britton said. “I was back to playing catch and now it has reset all over again. That’s the frustrating part. You put so much time in and now there’s another thing. It takes a toll on you and your family. … I don’t know if I’ve been that mad or sad over something like that in baseball before. I mean, I’ve never been seriously injured before, never anything I couldn’t get back from pretty quickly.”
While Britton is out for at least the first chunk of the 2018 season, the Orioles will have a painful business decision to make. They’ve already tendered Britton a contract for next year, and he was expected to make in the $12 to $13 million range in his last season of arbitration before hitting free agency. They can release him between now and late February and be on the hook for roughly 30 days of that salary.
That’s the smart financial move. However, Britton has been with the organization longer than any other player — he was a third-round pick in 2006 — and owner Peter Angelos is often fiercely loyal to his long-term employees.
Plus, there is a possibility Britton could return by June and be a trade candidate by July 31. But his current value on the trade market is now non-existent, crushing the Orioles’ chances of dealing him this winter for prospects. It also makes it more difficult for the Orioles to deal set-up man Brad Brach, also a free agent next winter, if they want to compete this season.
For now, though, the concentration is on Britton, and the unfortunate blow he’s been dealt right before he turns 30 Friday.
“I’m beyond words,” Britton said. “My 29th year hasn’t treated me real well. Maybe 30 will be better.”