Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Zach Britton began to feel some discomfort in his shoulder during the second half of the 2011 season. That discomfort reared its ugly head during spring training, leading into the 2012 season, and he was put on the 60-day disabled list as a result. 99 days and 55 games later Britton was finally able to test that shoulder out, but because he didn’t have much of an off-season program and didn’t have much of a spring training – and when I say not much of one I mean non-existent – his command was failing him and he just wasn’t ready for the major leagues.
In what was supposed to be a few rehab starts for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, he instead ended up spending just as much time (63.1 IP over 11 GS) in the minors as he did in the majors when he was finally called up (60.1 IP over 11 GS and 12 GMS).
To say that his 2012 season was a forgettable one would be a huge understatement, as it wasn’t even close to living up to his personal standards. Zach was kind enough to take the time to speak to me in regards to his health and his expectations heading into the 2013 season, so I thank him for that.
Lance Rinker: You missed a good chunk of last season due to a shoulder injury that required you to seek out medical treatment for. You received Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections for it. How many treatments did you have and how long did it take before you could tell it started to help you heal?
Zach Britton: I received two injections from Dr. Andrews and it took about 6 to 7 weeks until I felt no discomfort.
LR: What was the actual problem with your shoulder? When did the trouble with it actually begin?
ZB: Inflammation that started in the middle of 2011. I thought it was fatigue so I didn’t say anything and continued to pitch but toward the end of 2011 it turned pretty painful. I probably should I spoken up sooner but I wanted to be out on the mound, if I would have known if would have cost me all of last off season and effected my health and performance like it did last season I would I have tried to get the prp much sooner. To answer the question, the problem was inflammation in my bursa sac. All the other muscles and tendons are in good shape.
LR: How is the shoulder now, are you all healed up and ready to go for the 2013 season?
ZB: I feel great. Thankful to finally have a full off season to gain much needed strength back and be able to have a solid throwing program. Being able to throw pen before spring and make adjustments within my delivery is huge before going into a season. I develop a couple bad habits when I was hurting that have caused my command to suffer and I wasn’t able to correct those last year because I was more focused on being healthy.
LR: You were only able to pitch around 125 innings (between the majors and minors) last season. Do you know if you’ll be placed on any kind of innings limit for next season?
ZB: No innings limit that I know of. I’m healthy going into this season and I expect to reach 200 innings. Anything less is a disappointment.
LR: Well, at least now you know what that kind of injury feels like and can say something if you ever experience anything like it in the future.
ZB: Yeah, I learned my lesson. Instead of being able to establish myself as a solid member of the rotation, I was fighting to get healthy and I was behind the curve when I finally was. Now I’m fighting for a spot all over again. I’m ready though. Excited for the challenge.
LR: Are there any guys in the rotation or on the team that you keep in touch with regularly during the off-season? What about Buck Showalter or any of the other coaches, do you keep in contact with them?
ZB: Yeah, I keep in touch with a lot of guys. Mostly Tillman, Gonzalez and Chen. Gonzalez is actually who I’m throwing with starting next week. Buck and Rick Adair check in on each player throughout the off season.
LR: What’s your throwing program consist of now? There’s been some emphasis placed on long toss (Rangers org., Bundy, etc.) the last few years. Do you utilize any sort of long toss program beyond the normal 120 feet?
ZB: I like to get out past 200 ft.
LR: That’s good to hear. I’ve been doing some research and, when done properly, it’s very beneficial to developing arm and shoulder strength. Have you talked to Denver or Dylan Bundy about any specifics of long toss and developing that flexibility and arm/shoulder strength vital to a pitcher and giving them their best chance of making it through a full season healthy?
ZB: No I have a very good long toss plan that I learned from Nolan Ryan. It was something we did in high school. I’m sure Dylan has a good one as well. I think even last season my average velocity increased despite my shoulder. That’s how important toss is.
LR: Now that you’re fully healthy – does that increased velocity help with any one pitch specifically, or all of them in general? Also, how does a jump in velocity impact the overall command you have of your pitches?
ZB: Not really. Command is the most important tool at the big league level. Depends on if you’re overthrowing. But I find that my command is the best when I’m in the 91-92 range.
LR: One last question (a two part-er really). Is Zach Britton in the starting rotation to begin the 2013 season and can Orioles fans count on that guy to be who we all know he can be?
ZB: My Goal is to be one of the starting 5. If healthy I know I can be one of the best. I’m ready to go.
As most Orioles fans are already aware, the rotation currently features Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. That leaves just one spot open for him to fight for but he certainly seems up to the challenge. Barring a trade, he’ll be competing with Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, and even Dylan Bundy for that final spot. Seven pitchers vying for one spot – there hasn’t been this kind of competition for a spot in the Orioles rotation for a very long time.