Big stage doesn't faze young Britton
In first start, O's prospect shines vs. Yankees in primetime
SARASOTA, Fla. -- All it took was a mulligan from the national anthem singer to make Monday night seem far less daunting for Orioles top pitching prospect Zach Britton.
"Got a couple laughs out of me," said Britton, who moments later took the mound for his first start, against the New York Yankees in front of a record crowd of 8,471 at the newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium. "It broke the ice for everything."
The 23-year-old Britton, who admitted to being very nervous for his first career outing against Major League hitters last week, wasn't nearly as anxious this time around. Relying heavily on a four-seam and two-seam fastball, Britton zeroed in on catcher Matt Wieters' glove and tossed three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out Greg Golson on three pitches.
"I was talking to the guys, and they were like, 'Hey, just go after the guys. They were no different than the Phillies were," Britton said of facing a lineup that included Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
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"I have a lot of respect for what those guys have done on the field, but in between the lines, I was like, 'I don't care who you are. I'm going to go after you today. If you beat me, you beat me.'"
Monday's primetime game was also the first Orioles' exhibition contest televised on MASN this season, and included Rodriguez's girlfriend and Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz in the crowd. Britton's parents, Greg and Martha, were in attendance after driving to Fort Myers, Fla., for the O's first game of the day, where their other son, Buck, was an infield replacement.
Britton made sure the drive was worth it, getting Jeter, Cano and Teixeira on a trio of groundouts to start the game. He pitched around a leadoff single and a walk in the second and finished the 42-pitch outing by getting Teixeira on a grounder to shortstop.
"He throws hard; his ball moves a lot too," Jeter said. "He's got a good arm."
As for whether Britton's arsenal can carry over into the Major Leagues, Jeter seemed to think so.
"He's got good stuff," he said. "And if you have good stuff, you have good stuff."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said although he would have liked to see more first-pitch strikes from Britton, he was pleased overall with how the young lefty handled Monday's test.
"If you didn't know Zach was his age and what have you, unless you are trying to put yourself in his shoes, you wouldn't have thought he was any different than anyone else pitching tonight," Showalter said.
"I want to see how [the young guys in camp] are going to handle each step. This is another step of it. You pitched in Norfolk and Bowie ... instead of keeping them from that, I want to expose them to that and see how they are going to handle it. I thought Zach handled it well tonight."
While Britton is likely headed to Triple-A Norfolk to start the season, the uncertainty of oft-injured starter Justin Duchscherer at least puts him in the fifth-starter conversation, along with right-hander Chris Tillman. It's something Britton, in his first Major League camp, is trying to not get too worked up about.
"After talking to a lot of guys, [my mindset] was don't try to impress them [by doing] too much," Britton said of his approach coming into Spring Training. "There's certain things that are out of my control. So I came here to try to learn as much as possible. And when I got opportunities like this, it was to try to make the best of them."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.