BALTIMORE — Former All-Star relievers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day have taken important steps to make their respective returns to the Orioles from the disabled list.
O’Day’s activation could occur as soon as Friday after the right-hander successfully completed a simulated game on Wednesday. The 34-year-old hasn’t pitched since June 6 while dealing with a right shoulder strain, the same ailment that cost him more than a month late last season.
Meanwhile, Britton pitched in his first minor-league rehab game Tuesday and is eligible to return to the Orioles as soon as July 4 after he was recently placed on the 60-day DL, a procedural move that cleared a 40-man roster spot for outfielder Craig Gentry. The two-time All-Star closer and 2016 American League Reliever of the Year hasn’t pitched since the recurrence of a left forearm strain in early May, but he tossed a scoreless inning with a strikeout and a walk for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
The southpaw will continue his rehab assignment at Single-A Delmarva with scheduled appearances on Thursday and Saturday.
“As I go forward, it’s about commanding my sinker and throwing other pitches and getting back and actually executing pitches,” said Britton, who compared Tuesday’s outing to the first appearance a pitcher makes in Grapefruit League action. “Maybe you look at the results a little bit more as we go forward, but it was a big step yesterday. And I feel good coming in today, which is only positive.”
Manager Buck Showalter hasn’t enjoyed a fully-healthy bullpen since mid-April and has attempted to proceed through the late innings in recent weeks with only two established relievers — Brad Brach and Mychal Givens — from last year’s group that ranked among the best in the majors. In addition to going 47-for-47 in save opportunities and posting a microscopic 0.54 ERA last season, Britton was worth 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in win probability added (WPA), measures of just how critical he is to Baltimore’s success.
In nine innings this season, Britton has a 1.00 ERA with seven strikeouts, four walks, and 12 hits allowed. He converted all five of his save opportunities before initially going to the DL on Easter Sunday.
“His face and just his whole demeanor getting that first [rehab outing] behind him is better,” Showalter said. “It’s not anxiety, but just anticipation. He’s kind of in the groove.”
Britton saw a familiar face with the IronBirds Tuesday as former Orioles pitcher Mark Hendrickson was making his debut as their pitching coach. The two played together in Baltimore in Britton’s 2011 rookie season.
It was also the first time Britton had made an Opening Day start since he was still in the minor leagues.
“We were both nervous. It was his coaching debut,” Britton said. “I was like, ‘This could either go really bad or really good for you, right?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, please don’t do anything stupid.’ It was a cool moment to be part of that with him.”
NOTES: Injured first baseman Chris Davis received two platelet-rich plasma injections in an effort to speed up the healing of his strained right oblique. He is not expected to return until after the All-Star break. … Catcher Welington Castillo was out of the lineup Wednesday with a sore right shoulder after being hit there by a foul tip on Monday. Showalter said he was likely still available to come off the bench if needed.