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Orioles' Zach Britton hopes to duplicate great 2016 season

Orioles' Zach Britton hopes to duplicate great 2016 season

SARASOTA, Fla. – It's been a short spring training for Zach Britton.

Early in camp, the Baltimore Orioles' left-handed reliever, who converted all 47 of his save opportunities in 2016, felt discomfort in his left oblique and was held out. Britton has said if this were the regular season he would have pitched, and that he is close to being ready to go.

Manager Buck Showalter had wanted Britton to begin pitching in the second week of Grapefruit League games and follow the plan he set for two veteran right-handers Brad Brach and Darren O'Day.

Instead, the Orioles kept Britton out until March 14 when he allowed two runs on four hits in an inning against Tampa Bay. Britton was upset after that game, but he followed it with a scoreless inning on March 17 against Pittsburgh.

The oblique issues are long gone, Britton said.

"Well, the second one was a lot better than the first one. That's a good sign," Britton said. "No more symptoms of that, nothing's creeped back or anything. I feel really good now. I can just focus on getting ready for the season. I feel pretty good with where I'm at this year compared to where I was last year."

Britton followed the two innings with a minor league game Monday where he struck out the side on 12 pitches.

His schedule is set for the rest of spring. On Wednesday, Britton will pitch an inning against Tampa Bay, and after a few days off, he'll pitch on consecutive days.

"I'm pretty close. As a reliever now, it only takes a few innings., Britton said. "It kind of clicks for you one day, and then you're ready for the season to start where as a starter you've got to build up those innings, and I don't need to do that anymore."

In 2016, Britton had a marvelous season. After giving up his third earned run of the year on April 30, Britton went nearly four months – until Aug. 24 when he allowed his fourth and final run.

"A historical year," Showalter said. "I don't think you'll ever see another year like that."

The Orioles ended that year with Britton famously sitting in the bullpen when the Toronto Blue Jays won the American League wild-card game last October.

Early in spring training, Britton was the most popular interview subject in the clubhouse, but now the attention has gone elsewhere.

"A lot of people want to ask me about the wild-card game, and I think you guys have all covered it. I don't know how much more you can say on that, but everyone wants to talk about it and bring it up when they come in," Britton said. "There are other storylines in here that were a little more interesting, I think."

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Orioles front office pleased with progress, fan support during trying season

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Orioles front office pleased with progress, fan support during trying season

It’s been a long and trying season at Camden Yards, a fact not lost on Orioles leadership. 

Prior to the home finale Sunday afternoon, manager Brandon Hyde met with the media for his usual pregame availability. He answered each question, explained a few decisions he had been made, and sprinkled in a few jokes. It was a typical press conference.

Then, when all the questions were done, Hyde stopped everyone getting up to leave, asking to say a few words.

“The energy in the ballpark last night was fantastic,” Hyde began. “I’m looking forward to the day when it’s like that all the time. I appreciate the way the fans showed up.”

Of course, that fan support came in what was ultimately a losing effort for the Orioles. It’s a pattern that’s been prevalent all season long in Baltimore.

“It’s been hard,” the manager continued. “Been a trying process, I totally understand the frustrations. But it will get better.”

It did get better, at least for a day, as the Orioles held off the Mariners 2-1 in a breezy Sunday afternoon affair.

Most of the players impacting Sunday’s win may not be around the next time the Orioles are competitive, but the starting pitcher certainly caught the eye of Mike Elias this season.

“I think the team has played its butt off all year,” the general manager praised before the game. “It’s battled, and I think we can all go with the individual success stories. You know, Means, Santander, Severino, Mancini having a huge year. I mean, there’s too many to go through right now. Not everything goes perfectly in a baseball season, but I think the positives this year far outweigh the negatives, and our organization is positioned so much better for the future than it was this time last year.”

The general praise continued from the man leading the Orioles' rebuild, though he is quick to recognize the reality of the franchise’s situation.

“We’ve got a lot of areas to get better in, I think that’s no secret,” Elias admitted. “But overall we sit back and look around at what’s happened in the organization and it was just a very positive year. Got a lot accomplished across the organization...The farm system’s taken a huge jump this year. Some of that, obviously, is the draft with the number one pick. But I would argue most of it is what happened with the players that were already in the system. Some player development improvements that we made, the changes and the steps forward the group took. Here at the big league level, look. I mean we’re still losing games way more than we want to. This is not fun, it’s not easy to crawl out of.”

Elias is right. The Orioles finished 61 games out of first place in 2018. Even with Sunday’s win, they are currently 50 games behind the Yankees in the AL East in 2019. 

This is a huge hole, and a better year than last doesn’t mean the Orioles are close to competing. Yet.

While Elias and the rest of the front office appreciate the fan support the team has received in 2019, he knows it’s all relative to the on-field success of the organization.

“I can’t ask anyone to embrace losing the way we have. Our record last year was historically bad, this year it’s not going to be a ton better. Nobody wants to do this. We never want this to happen again,” Elias told reporters emphatically. “There’s a long way to go, a lot to be done. I think the support has been tremendous. The people coming out here, they love this team. The people of the city love this team, they know that this needs to be done. And I’m confident that they’re going to come back, and they’re gonna come back in a big way.”

At least one pregame request from Hyde came true Sunday, as he hoped fans would show appreciation for both Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, two Orioles who have experienced rough years for different reasons.

The Camden Yards faithful responded, showering Davis with thunderous applause after his home run in the seventh inning gave the O’s their 2-1 lead. Of course, any player homering in that scenario would receive an ovation. But that doesn’t make it any less nice to see it come Davis’ way.

Hyde also put out a second plea to Orioles fans pregame. 

“I’m asking for everybody’s patience. I want fans to feel good about the start of the process, and trust that it’s going to get better.”

The confidence from management has not wavered, and for now, it hasn’t wavered from most fans either. If Hyde and Elias are to be believed, even a 100-loss season can signal a positive step forward, and the Orioles firmly believe they’re on the right track.

This time in 2018, the Orioles were a franchise in disarray, with a lame-duck leadership team and a bleak future. 

It’s hard to believe what a difference a season can make.

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Baltimore Orioles Roundup: Ryan Mountcastle earns Orioles’ top prospect award

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Baltimore Orioles Roundup: Ryan Mountcastle earns Orioles’ top prospect award

The Mariners claimed their second-ever win against the Orioles in a game of 13 innings or longer (September 5, 2003). Check out the latest news and notes from the  Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse. 

Player Updates:

RP John Means will start Sunday against the Mariners. Over 143.0 innings Means sits at a 10-11 mark so far, with a 3.65 ERA, 112 Ks, and 35 BBs. 

1B Ryan Mountcastle earned the Orioles’ top prospect award which he received before Saturday's first pitch. The 22-year-old hit .312 for Norfolk with an OPS of .871. Mountcastle hit 25 home runs and had 83 RBIs.

Injuries

OF Mason Williams, knee, out indefinitely

RP Hunter Harvey, biceps, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Josh Rogers, elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely 

SP Alex Cobb, back, 60-Day IL, 2020

Coming Up:

Sunday, 9/22: Mariners at Orioles, 1:05 p.m., Camden Yards

Monday 9/23: Orioles at Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m. Rogers Centre

Tuesday 9/24: Orioles at Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m. Rogers Centre

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