After the Baltimore Orioles fell well out of contention, they decided to make a monumental change in their bullpen. On July 24, 2018, Orioles closer Zach Britton was dealt to the rival New York Yankees for minor league pitchers Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers.
Former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Zach Britton would return to his old stomping grounds on Friday evening for his first matchup against the Orioles in Camden Yards. The 30-year old looked around, wearing his navy blue and white Yankees cap with a team-issued pullover to address his former hometown media.
“[I did] a little bit of everything,” Britton said of his return to Baltimore. “Walking down the tunnel, going past the home side – I stopped for a few seconds to say hi, but I had never been on the visiting side. So, this is all new.”
In eight seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Britton racked up a 30-22 record with a 3.22 ERA, 1.271 WHIP and 139 saves in 516.2 innings pitched. He began his career as a starter and then transitioned into becoming one of the top relievers in the game starting in 2014. Being back to the field that he called home for those eight years was a special moment for him.
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“I remember the first time that I came here and made my first major league start,” Britton said, reminiscing of his time with the Orioles. “Playoff games here, closing games here – just a lot of different memories. It’s good to be back.”
For the entirety of his eight years with the Orioles, Buck Showalter was Britton’s manager. The two have been through a lot together – spanning from Baltimore’s ending of the 15-year postseason drought in 2012, to Britton being converted from a starter to a closer in 2014, to becoming the saves leader in 2016. However, they haven’t been able to catch up since Britton has departed from Baltimore.
“I haven’t yet,” the Yankees reliever said of speaking to his former manager. “Today there’s been a lot of stuff going on – trying to talk to teammates that I didn’t get a chance to talk to when I got traded, people in the front office or even the training staff. I’ve got trips still waiting tonight, but a lot of them are home – just kind of stopping in, saying hi to them and catching up.”
Home Orioles fans are getting their first opportunity to see Britton in a Yankees uniform. Although he is now a part of AL East rival ball club, he expects his visit to be well-received by the fans for the most part.
“They’ve been great to me, so I’m sure that it’s going to be nice,” said Britton of the reception that he expects to see from Orioles fans. “But they obviously don’t like the Yankees either. It’s going to be a mixture of some boos and some cheers I think.”
When Britton does touch the mound for the first time since being traded from Orioles, it’ll be an uncommon feeling for him. He has made 161 appearances at Camden Yards, holding batters to a .219/.285/.312 slash line and an average of .262 with balls in play. Now, he will have to see if he can be just as dominant against his old club.
“It’s going to be different,” said the left-hander. “The parts of seven, eight seasons that I had with the team here, pitching for the home team. It’s going to be a little different – pitching in a Yankee uniform here. I’m looking forward to it – a lot of great memories here. I’m just excited to be back and to compete here again.”
Since joining the Yankees, Britton hasn’t had the same success that he did with the Orioles. He has a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 innings with his new club but has given up no runs in his past three outings.
His struggles are to be expected. Coming off an Achilles tear during the offseason, he would grind his way back to the Orioles 25-man roster in June. Though he would return he would take some time to regain his form. He finished with a 3.45 ERA and four saves in 15.2 innings for Baltimore in 2018. Going to a new team meant that he would have to learn a new mound, new catchers and a brand new environment to pitch in, following a major injury during the offseason.
“New team, new faces – I had been with the Orioles for 12 years,” Britton explained. “It’s a lot to get used to when you go to a new team and I’m obviously pitching in a lot different of a role than I pitched in, so just forming a new routine has been the biggest challenge. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job now of getting into a routine so that I’m ready to throw in the role that I’m in right now.”
Many of Britton’s former Oriole comrades have been traded – from Manny Machado to Jonathan Schoop, to Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day, the team has a different structure than when he left. He was able to see some of the players that he had built a relationship with over the eight seasons that he spent with the team.
“It was just fun to see the guys,” Britton said of catching up with his old teammates. A lot of guys have gotten traded from this team – it’s not the same team from when I left, but it’s just good to see the guys that I had the relationship with.”
With Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman (left knee tendinitis) hitting the disabled list, Britton has the opportunity to seize the closer’s role for the time being. It is almost the only role that the 30-year old has known in the bullpen with the Orioles, sans his time as a long reliever early in the 2014 season. He believes that he could seamlessly make his return to the spotlight.
“Absolutely,” Britton said on whether or not he would be comfortable closing games once again. “That’s the most comfortable role that I had – that’s the only role that I had in the bullpen really – going from starting, to pretty much closing games. That’s a comfortable place for me to fall back on, but if I need to throw where I’m throwing right now or let Dellin [Betances] or Robbie [David Robertson] some save chances to – it’s going to be the situation is going to dictate who get’s in there.
“Yeah obviously I’ve had experience closing games and I’ll be comfortable in that role, but I’m getting comfortable in the role that I’m in now.”
Before the game, Britton caught up with a few of his former teammates, including Caleb Joseph. Joseph was Britton’s batterymate for years throughout the minor leagues and into the majors.
Ironically enough, Britton would get his opportunity to close at the end of the night. His save situation was set up by a home run to deep center field off of the bat of Yankees second baseman Neil Walker. Gleyber Torres would get on base, setting up a Luke Voit two-run homer to put the Yankees up 7-4. The pitcher – none other than Carroll, one of the pitchers that Baltimore received in the trade package for Britton.
“It was weird,” Britton said of trotting back out onto the mound in Baltimore with a Yankees uniform. “It was nice to get into a save situation, but definitely weird to face the guys that I’ve been playing with for so long.”
When Britton entered the game, he received an applause for the fans – neither deafening or in a jeering way. He received a video tribute before the game from the Baltimore Orioles. The gesture was one that he appreciated.
“That was neat,” Britton stated. “I got traded late in the day, so I think a lot of people didn’t get to say their goodbyes. That was their way [of saying it] and I appreciate it.”
He initially was hesitant to go out and take it all in, but Chad Green urged him to celebrate his career with the Orioles by way of the tip of the cap.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Britton said quizzically. “I didn’t know what they wanted me to do. It’s kind of awkward when you’re getting put on the spot.”
His opportunity wouldn’t be easy as his former teammate of eight seasons, Adam Jones, singled off of him. The lefty would then do what he does best, inducing a ground ball double play on a 97-mph sinker to get Trey Mancini and Jones out. However, Chris Davis would homer off of Britton in the next at-bat.
The first thing that Davis would do when he returned to Baltimore Orioles clubhouse would be to text Britton to rub the home run in. Their friendly back and forth is a reminder of the seven-plus seasons that they spent with one another.
“It was the first thing [I think] he did when he got back in was text me,” Britton said of Davis’ jeer. “I’m not gonna live that down forever. It’s tough when you’re facing your former teammates because you know that they’re gonna give you some crap, especially after something like that.”
Finally, Britton would shut things down with a Tim Beckham ground out to first base for the final out. It was his first save as a Yankee and fifth on the year. Now Britton will look to solidify his role in New York’s bullpen as they are currently four games ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the first AL Wild Card spot.