Take away Manny Machado and all that surrounds him, and arguably the two most compelling, on-field stories of this lost Orioles season are Chris Davis’ attempt to return from ignominy and Zach Britton’s attempt to return from injury.
Those two jockeyed for prominence Wednesday night in a span of about five minutes in the Orioles’ eventual 8-7, 11-inning loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Not surprisingly, the negative won out against the positive. That’s what happens these days at Camden Yards, where the MLB-worst Orioles (23-56) have lost 14 of their last 15.
The details of another defeat – lefty Donnie Hart allowed a sacrifice fly in the 11th after Mychal Givens permitted a leadoff double in his second inning of work — take a backseat to Davis and Britton intrigue.
In the bottom of the eighth, with the Orioles trailing 5-4, the beleaguered Davis absolutely demolished an Alex Colome pitch, dropping it on Eutaw Street for a go-ahead, three-run homer.
It was Davis’ second home run since his eight-game benching earlier this month. It was also just his fourth hit in that span (22 at-bats). Davis snapped an 0-for-12 skid with a single in his second plate appearance in the fourth Wednesday; he hadn’t had a multi-hit game since May 11.
“It was great for Chris off a good relief pitcher, obviously. Had a lot of good at-bats. Scored enough runs that should hold up, but that makes it disappointing,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s still a nice contribution from Chris. Good to see him (have success). I thought he had some good at-bats tonight other than the home run.”
These types of go-ahead blasts were the norm for Davis back when he was leading the lead in longballs. But now, a colossal home run in the eighth inning to give the Orioles a lead seems particularly poignant.
At least until the top of the ninth, when Britton gave up a single and a two-run homer to Kyle Seager before registering an out.
He eventually escaped without further damage, leaving the game tied, 7-7, but Britton still blew his first save (in two chances) this season.
Wednesday was Britton’s eighth appearance this year since returning this month from Achilles surgery in December.
It was only the second time he’s been charged with earned runs this year – the first was a four-run disaster Friday in Atlanta. But several of Britton’s outings have been less than crisp, and he hasn’t consistently showed the command of his sinker that made him so dominant when healthy.
“He’s just inconsistent with some of the things that he spoiled us with for a long time here. He’s still one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and he’s shown that,” Showalter said. “Not necessarily flashes. He’s shown extended periods in those eight outings. It’s just going to take a little while for him to find his step, but he will.”
The sense is Britton is healthy, just rusty. He couldn’t work on a mound after the December injury and missed all of spring training, and it shows. Britton subscribes to that theory, too.
“You go through it in spring, when you feel out of whack for a while, and then a couple outings, it kind of clicks and then you just roll with it. I expected that it would take me some time to come back after surgery, not having a spring, but obviously I want it to come now,” Britton said. “So, I’m just going to continue to go through things I’ve done in the past, the routine and stuff. Hopefully, it gets here sooner rather than later. I just want to be better the next time around. That’s all I can really do. It’s been a struggle. Tonight’s about as frustrated as I’ve been in a long time. Just try to be better if I get in the game the next day or tomorrow. That’s kind of my mindset right now.
There’s a month before the non-waiver trade deadline. Plenty of time for Britton to show he’s the Zach Britton of old. And, if he gets there, other teams will dismiss these early struggles as, well, early struggles.
If he doesn’t, well his trade value will decrease significantly.
So, yeah, there’s still plenty of time for this – a compelling storyline in an awful season – to unfold.