Zach Britton exploded onto the scene in Baltimore when he toed the rubber for his major-league start on April 3rd. Die-hard Oriole fans had probably heard his name mentioned as one of the top Oriole prospects in the future after he was drafted in the third round for the Birds in 2006.
Britton won his first two career starts in the majors and finished April with a 4-1 record, leading all rookies in wins and it looked as if Britton possibly could record 10 wins by the All-star break and lead the Orioles to a winning first half of the season, but then his sophomore month struck.
During May, Britton manned the hill six times, and only won his first start in May (on May 1st) against the Chicago White Sox after he tossed six innings, surrendered 1 earned run on a homerun, allowed five hits, three walks and one strikeout. But, over his next five starts, he was unable to notch his sixth win of the season.
Britton finished May with a 1-2 record, three no decisions and a 3.00 ERA. He allowed 37 hits in 39 innings, which averages to 6.5 innings per start, and he gave up 13 earned runs, 12 walks and 19 strikeouts in six games started.
Should Oriole fans be concerned with Britton’s performance over his last seven starts? The southpaw failed to win in six consecutive outings in which the Birds lost four of the six games, and the two wins were the extra-innings games against the Mariners and Royals respectively, so he did not receive a decision in either contest.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Britton’s numbers from his first couple of months as a big-leaguer and dig deep into Britton’s aforementioned struggles in May.
In his first month as a member of the Orioles rotation, Britton dominated and showed early signs of an ace in the making. The rookie sported a 4-1 record, with a 2.84 ERA in the five games started. He allowed 10 runs and 25 hits in 31.2 innings pitched, which averages to 6.24 innings per game.
Offensively, the Birds supported Britton by scoring at least four runs in four of his five starts, and they scored five runs in three of the five starts. The O’s tallied 18 runs for him in April, an average of 3.6 runs per game.
Ordinarily, 3.6 runs per game is not that productive and usually doesn’t yield as many wins, but Britton’s ERA was sub three and he only allowed more than three runs in one game in April. That one game was his first major-league loss and it was against the Indians, as he allowed five runs for the first time in his young career.
In April, opponents were hitting only .225 off of Britton as he had the advantage of unfamiliarity with major-league hitters. Through his first five games, the southpaw only allowed two homeruns, while surrendering four through six starts in May.
Opponents raised their average against Britton in May to .257, which is still nothing to be disappointed with for Britton, but it did rise over 30 points.
In May, Britton fell to 5-3 with three no decisions and although his ERA only rose to 2.93, the rookie tossed 39 innings, allowed 37 hits, and yielded 13 earned runs over his six outings. He allowed 12 more hits in 7.1 more innings, but struck out and walked the same number of runners.
Britton only allowed more than three runs in one of his May starts, but he lost both the start in which he allowed three runs at home against the Rays, and his worst career outing in Oakland when he gave up six runs and 10 hits to the fourth-place A’s, both career-highs.
So, with the exclusion of the Oakland start, Britton only allowed eight runs in May, and really didn’t pitch as poorly as his line reads. Britton pitched in some tough luck after losing a start in which he only allowed three runs, but that happens sometimes and he’ll have to get used to it.
Some of the blame for Britton’s inconsistency and lack of wins throughout May can be attributed to the Birds offense, who fell short in mid-May and struggled as a club. The Orioles scored 20 runs in his six games started, an average of 3.33 runs per game, which is about .3 less than April.
Britton’s run support in May was not much less than in April, but the main difference is the distribution of runs scored. The Birds scored two runs twice and one run once in three of his May outings, and no matter how dominate a starter is, it’s hard to win a ballgame with only one or two runs of support.
Following the Oakland start, Britton returned home to battle the rival Jays from north of the border; he struggled with his consistency and locating his pitches and as evidence, he threw a career-low five innings, allowed only six hits, but gave up five earned runs, seven total, as he took the loss.
In Britton’s second June start and his second outing against the A’s in a week and a half, the rookie sensation returned to form and allowed four hits, one earned run and managed to throw only 79 pitches in 6.1 innings.
One of the major questions after the game was whether he hurt himself and why he was pulled out so early from the game when he seemed to be cruising against Oakland. Showalter felt that Britton had done enough on one of the hottest nights of the year (96 degrees at first pitch).
The offense is heating up a bit and so far this month, the Birds have scored seven runs for Britton, which averages 3.5 runs per game. So, his runs per game is back to where it was in April and the O’s are 5-2 in June and are playing more consistently as a team.
Overall in June, Britton is 1-1 with a high 4.76 ERA, but that’s mainly because he’s only tossed 11.1 innings in two outings. Before June, he was averaging almost seven innings per start (6.95) and this month, he’s only averaged about 5.55 innings per start, but once he builds up more stamina and Showalter allows him to go deeper into the game when it’s a scorcher, he’ll win more games.
An interesting stat is Britton has started nine of his thirteen games at Oriole Park, and has a 4-2 record with three no decisions. He actually has a higher winning percentage on the road (.500) than at home (.444).
I don’t think there is anything for the Baltimore fans to be worried about. Britton is only 23 years old and has only started 13 games at the major-league level. There are going to be times when he struggles and games where he just doesn’t have his “A” stuff.
Right now, Britton has the second-most wins for a rookie in the league with six behind Rays phenom Jeremy Hellickson, who is 7-3 and features a 2.64 ERA. And, Britton is second on the Orioles with wins behind Jake Arrieta, who is tied for the lead in the American lead with seven victories.
Britton has at least five more starts before the mid-summer classic in July, so there is still a chance he can win 10 games, but even if he’s unable to make it to the ten-win pinnacle before the break, the rookie is still on track to have a great rest of the season.
Britton has a record of 6-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 82 innings pitched and will make his next start against Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
Friday night vs. the Rays:
The Orioles are 29-31, and three games behind the third-place Tampa Bay Rays (33-29).
The Rays will send rookie sensation Hellickson to the rubber and the Birds will counter with Arrieta, who is also 7-3, but he carries a 4.93 ERA. Hellickson is 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA in 21.2 innings vs. the Birds this season, and tossed a complete game last time out against the O’s. He hasn’t given up any runs in his last two starts against the Birds over 14 innings.
Who is hot for the Birds?
Mark Reynolds is five for his last 17 (.294) with three homeruns, and eight RBIs in his last six games.
Adam Jones is seven for his last 23 (.303), with two runs, one homerun, and two RBIs over the past week, but has cooled a bit recently.
Matt Wieters is hitting at a .346 clip with nine hits in 26 at-bats, scored three runs and driven in four runners against the Rays this season.
No Oriole has more than two hits against Hellickson, and Jones has the most at-bats against him with seven.
Who is struggling?
Nick Markakis is four for his last 23 (.174) with no extra-base hits and only two runs driven in over the past seven days, but he has the second highest average on the team vs. the Rays this season. He is 11 for 34 (.324) with one double, one homerun, three runs and five RBI. Maybe he will break out of his funk this weekend.
**Derrek Lee will be out of the lineup all weekend against the Rays due to his grandfather’s funeral and will return to the team on Tuesday in Toronto.
**Brian Roberts will probably be out of the lineup until after the All-star break due to concussion-like symptoms.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.