Resilient Britton overcomes bug to beat Twins

April 21, 2011 | Luke Jones

The final stat line tells you how Zach Britton pitched in a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night.

Good enough to win, but not overly impressive.

Britton earned his third win in four starts but struggled with his command at several points, including two walks in the sixth inning that led to two runs and turned a comfortable 5-1 lead into a two-run nail-biter that was handed over to the bullpen. He departed after six innings and 88 pitches, giving up three earned runs, five hits, and issuing three free passes while striking out three.

However, listening to his post-game comments provided a new appreciation for the outing after learning he was under the weather and even wheezing on the mound at several points, according to manager Buck Showalter. And it reaffirmed what many have suspected despite the 3-1 start to the 23-year-old’s infant career.

His best work is still on the way.

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With a scratchy, hoarse voice, Britton expressed disappointment in his control issues and credited five early runs — thanks to home runs from Matt Wieters and Vladimir Guerrero and a two-run double by Adam Jones — for putting him in position to pick up the victory. It certainly helped that he faced a hapless Twins lineup that hasn’t scored more than five runs in a game all season, but Britton made key pitches when it mattered most, pitching out of jams in the second and third innings and minimizing the damage in his final inning of work.

Instead of patting himself on the back after his third quality start of the season, Britton viewed the outing as a learning experience for pitching with a sizable lead — and what you can’t afford to do with one.

“It could have been better,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the walks, especially with the 5-1 lead, and you put guys on base and it ends up being a close game like that. So I wasn’t happy with the wildness, but we scored a lot of runs and kept us in the game.”

Of course, as Showalter pointed out after the game, players compete at less than 100 percent all the time, and the opposition doesn’t care if you’re not at the top of your game. Competing against a lineup without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and allowing three runs in six innings, Britton may have been more fortunate than anything else, but it’s hard not to like his makeup, both physically and mentally.

In 25 2/3 innings, Britton has allowed only nine earned runs (3.16 ERA) with four of those coming in one disastrous inning in Cleveland last Friday. He’s pitched at least six innings in all four of his starts.

Hearing his thoughts after each start, you get the sense that he’s far from satisfied. The road to success will unquestionably get tougher as scouts and opposing teams view more game tape and gain a better look at his repertoire of pitches and his tendencies.

Yes, it’s only April and only four starts, but the early return on Britton is impressive, even when he hasn’t been at his best.

“That’s what he’s going to have to do,” Wieters said. “He’s a sinkerball guy, and he’s not going to throw a sinker at the knees every time, so he’s going to give up some ground-ball hits and some broken-bat hits. That’s the life of a sinkerball pitcher. He’s going to have to get through that.

“When your bad nights are six innings and three runs, that’s not too bad.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Britton, Showalter, Wieters, and Kevin Gregg following the Orioles’ 5-4 win and remember to join us in the Orange Crush live chat for every weeknight home game at WNST.net.

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