Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Zach To The Future

In the spring of 2009, former Orioles manager Dave Trembley declared "...the cavalry is coming." To whom was he referring to?

To the stable of young arms general manager Andy MacPhail had been putting together since he took over in June of 2007. The arms included Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Brian Matusz. One arm not included in 2009?

Zachary Britton.

As we begin the 2011 season, two years since the declaration made by Trembley, many things have changed. For one, Trembley is no longer the teams skipper. That distinction belongs to current manager Buck Showalter. Tillman has had a tough go of his first two major elague seasons, Matusz has proven (though he is currently on the DL) to be a front-line starter, Arrieta is a steady starter, Bergesen is caught between being a 6th starter and a AAAA-type player, and Hernandez was shipped to Arizona in a deal for current third basemen Mark Reynolds.

As of 2011, Britton may be the teams best starter. Two seasons ago, Britton wasn't considered part of the cavalry. But during that 2009 season, he opened some eyes with a 2.70 ERA at High-A Frederick that showed a power sinker and a developing change-up. His rise had begun.

Britton, a third-round pick out of high school in 2006, struggled at the start of his professional career. He went 0-4 at Bluefield (Orioles rookie ball) and didn't make it to low-A Delmarva until 2008. Scouts have said that he had no secondary pitches to go along with his low-90's fastball. He then worked hard to develop his change-up and slider to go along with the fastball that began hitting the mid-90's with sink action. In 2010, Britton posted a 2.48 ERA in Bowie.

The Orioles weren't worried anymore whether Britton was or wasn't part of the cavalry. They had to begin to realize that he may be their best pitcher at any level.

Britton dominated the Grapefruit league during spring training of 2011. The only reason he wouldn't begin the 2011 season in Baltimore was because the team wanted to delay his arbitration status making him a free agent after 2017 instead of 2016. But when Matusz went on the DL the day before his first start of the season, the baseball gods shone on Britton.

Britton dominated the Tampa Bay Rays in his first start posting a three hit shutout in seven innings. What would he do for an encore?

Britton, making his first career home start against the defending American League champion Texas Rangers, threw a five-hit shutout. Only two Rangers made it past first base. With his power sinker, at one point reaching 96 MPH, was too much for the Rangers lineup. It had to be the culmination of Britton's career that started out in Bluefield, WV. A struggling lefty who made the most of his opportunities and worked hard to develop devastating plus pitches.

Suddenly, Britton is the best pitcher in the Orioles rotation, and it looks like he will be in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. He'll be a good one for years because of his power sinker and devastating changeup and slider. In two starts he is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA.

Maybe Britton wasn't part of the cavalry; but he sure looks like the King in Baltimore now.

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