There really was only one important thing that happened for the Orioles on Tuesday night in their 6-4, lackluster loss to the Boston Red Sox, their sixth straight defeat and 47th of the season.
Zach Britton pitched.
He didn’t pitch well, mind you. His adrenaline was rushing to such an extent that he couldn’t throw a strike. But, right now, that doesn’t matter.
It was the first time the former All-Star closer had thrown a pitch in a big league game since Sept. 18, 2017, also against the Red Sox in Baltimore.
“It was good to get into a game. Obviously, I was overthrowing everything I think I threw today,” Britton said. “Just excited. Moving fast. Just hope to settle in the next time I get on the mound. Improve every time I get a chance to pitch.”
The performance was significant for a couple reasons.
One, Britton tore his right Achilles while working out in December and battled back to the big league mound within six months of the injury. That’s especially impressive, considering six months was probably best-case scenario.
Two, how Britton pitches – and if he remains healthy – potentially will make an impact for this club in its necessary and immediate look to the future.
A pending free agent, if Britton, 30, returns close to the form that he exhibited from 2014 to 2016, he could be the Orioles’ second biggest trade chip next month behind only shortstop Manny Machado.
Machado is by far the best available player on the market, but bullpen help is always coveted at the non-waiver trade deadline and a dominant Britton could be a huge boost for a contending team.
Furthermore, dealing him for a legitimate prospect or two would help the Orioles in a rebuilding effort that, frankly, can’t come soon enough.
For the Orioles to get some value for Britton next month he must pitch better than he did Tuesday, of course.
And he will.
Call it rust, nerves, being “amped up” as Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. Whatever the words, the reality is it had been a long time since Britton faced a big leaguer.
“Yeah, like nine months since I pitched in a big league game, so it almost felt like my debut. Like an out-of-body experience. It was weird,” he said. “That command’s obviously not going to play. I can’t remember the last time I threw a ball to the backstop. So that just shows you. It was just a weird one out there, but I was just happy to get it out of the way and then just kind of settle back in, kind of breathe a little bit.”
Britton walked three batters Tuesday for the first time in the regular season in his career as a reliever. His only other three-walk relief outing was in Game 1 of the 2014 American League Championship Series against Kansas City, when he walked three of the four batters he faced.
The last time Britton walked three in a regular season game was July 9, 2013, when he was a starter.
Throwing mostly two-seam fastballs Tuesday, Britton directed only 11 of his 26 pitches for strikes, but he didn’t give up a run. He picked up three outs on a strikeout — on one of two sliders he threw in the outing — a groundout and a fortuitous bounce.
That out was recorded when Britton blew a fastball beyond rookie catcher Austin Wynns and against the brick backstop behind home plate. It bounced right back to Wynns, who threw to second to get Mitch Moreland attempting to advance.
“If it works a little bit, I guess we should work on that one a little bit more,” Britton joked about the well-placed ricochet.
Britton’s sinker was clocked between 92 and 95 mph, and it had plenty of movement – way too much movement. He said his teammates were kidding him about just how much the sinker dashed and darted Tuesday night.
The specific results, for now, aren’t important.
Getting Britton on the mound, facing big league hitters and potentially escalating his trade value is what matters most in a season that is lost in mid-June.