BALTIMORE — If you happened to watch the Texas Rangers’ pummeling of talented Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader that was over after the Rangers’ six-run third inning, you can appreciate even more what rookie Zach Britton was able to do in his second big league start earlier in the afternoon.
Facing a lineup that had a staggering 32 extra-base hits and a .958 OPS in its first six games entering Saturday, Britton dominated the American League champions over 7 2/3 innings, allowing no runs and four hits to earn his second victory in a 5-0 win for the Orioles. Britton struck out two and walked three in his first start in Baltimore that was delayed a day due to Friday’s rain and became the first pitcher to beat the Rangers this season.
“He was very good,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It goes without saying. I think he had five hitters on to lead off innings, something like that. That’s the beauty of the ground ball. We actually had a chance to turn another [double play] behind him. He had good stuff, trusted it. Thought his secondary stuff was good too.”
Knowing he needed to eat up innings with the Orioles facing a doubleheader with an already-taxed bullpen, Britton used his heavy sinker to the tune of 16 groundball outs, including three double plays, and allowed only one batter to reach third base before being lifted with two outs in the eighth. It was a good thing too, as Arrieta lasted only 3 1/3 innings and allowed eight runs in the second game before giving way to the bullpen in a 13-1 drubbing.
“It doesn’t really matter who we’re facing,” said Britton when asked about facing such a formidable lineup. “My job today was to go out there and give us a lot of innings because we had a doubleheader. To save the bullpen, my job going in was to go as deep as I can and that’s what my mindset was.”
The Baltimore bats certainly did their part in his start, staking the rookie to a 5-0 lead in the first three innings, but Britton’s mindset didn’t change as it does with many young pitchers. He continued attacking Texas hitters, forcing grounder after grounder to keep his infield active throughout the afternoon.
“It’s the same thing,” Britton said. “We’re ahead in the game. My job’s to go in there and pump strikes, make them put the ball in play. And I can get our team back in the dugout as quickly as possible.”
However, the lefty wasn’t perfect as he walked the leadoff hitter three times, a dangerous proposition for any pitcher yet alone one making his second big league start. His leadoff walk to Nelson Cruz in his final inning of work ultimately led to his departure prior to the end of the eighth inning. Despite a rousing standing ovation from an appreciative Camden Yards crowd, Britton was not pleased with how his afternoon ended, offering an impressive glimpse into his competitive nature.
“I wanted to stay out there obviously, but I walked Cruz and that kills you,” Britton said. “You know walks are going to kill you, get your pitch count up. I knew why I was [coming] out, but I would’ve liked to finish it, but it was a good call.”
As the final arrival of the much-hyped cavalry of young pitchers talked about for the last few years, it’s hard not to be excited about his performance after two starts. Britton has pitched to a 2-0 record with a 0.66 earned run average over 13 2/3 innings. However, you get the sense Britton isn’t satisfied yet and that he’s only scratching the surface of his immense talent.
His hard sinking fastball regularly hit 92-93 mph on the radar gun Saturday, and several four-seam fastballs reached the 95-96 range. Left-handed pitchers with that kind of velocity just don’t come around very often.
Britton will inevitably struggle at some point as teams begin to see more tape on him, which will force him to make adjustments as any player does at this level. However, it will be hard to doubt his ability to do it when the time comes.
“He’s got good stuff,” outfielder Adam Jones said. “It’s the second start in the big leagues. Ask me about July. A lot of video’s going to get out on him, and he’s going to have to make those adjustments. But he’s got electric stuff.
Listening to Britton talk about his impressive performance against one of the best lineups in baseball while emphasizing the things on which he needs to improve, it’s understandable why so many have whispered what he might become down the road with the psyche to supplement the physical tools.
“I’m happy we won,” Britton said. “I think we showed that we can compete with a good team. We played really good baseball, and that’s what this team’s all about is playing good baseball. What I did was just icing on the cake.”
NOTES: J.J. Hardy returned to the lineup in the nightcap of the doubleheader, but left after his first at-bat in the second inning with a strained left oblique, an injury that will likely land him on the 15-day disabled list. Hardy had missed two straight games with the injury. “It sucks. I mean, I came in today feeling like everything was gone. It was nothing. Took some swings in the cage, felt like it was gone. Then took that first swing in the game, and it just kind of grabbed on me.” … Jeremy Guthrie will return to the mound Sunday after a bout with pneumonia earlier this week. He has not pitched since the season-opening win on April 1. … Arrieta allowed a career-high eight runs on Saturday night. … Nick Markakis has reached based safely in all eight games this season. The Orioles right fielder homered in the first game and walked in the nightcap to extend his streak. … The Orioles conclude their six-game homestand on Sunday afternoon as Guthrie goes to the hill against Derek Holland in the rubber game of a three-game set.
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