Off-speed pitches help Britton get up to speed

orioles in the minors

August 27, 2008|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 2006 draft, Zach Britton eschewed an opportunity to pitch for Texas A&M and signed a professional contract.

At the time, the Weatherford, Texas, native said the decision was "a no-brainer," though there would be plenty of days when he wondered whether he had made the right move. In his first professional season, Britton was winless in 11 starts for Rookie-level Bluefield, going 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA.

"I definitely second-guessed my call," said Britton, a left-hander who has emerged as one of the Orioles' better pitching prospects this season for Single-A Delmarva. "I didn't have an off-speed pitch. I just had a good fastball. It didn't matter how hard you threw it, they'd hit it because they knew it was coming. It taught me that I needed to focus on developing my off-speed pitches."

Britton, 20, has worked extensively the past two seasons on his off-speed repertoire, and it has showed in his numbers. Last year, Britton, who patterns his style after Tom Glavine, went 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 15 starts for short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He's been even better this year for the Shorebirds, going 11-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts. Britton has surrendered only 48 hits in 69 innings since the All-Star break, and opponents are hitting just .220 against him.

"I think the big moment for him last year was in the instructional league when he began throwing a slider," said David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of player development. "He was throwing a curveball, and he just didn't have the right arm angle. But the last game of instructional league, he was throwing a nasty slider with good depth. That's when we knew that was going to be the pitch for him."

Britton speaks regularly with Garrett Olson, who was in the Orioles' rotation for much of the season before a demotion last week, about the mental part of the game and also works out in the offseason with Jake Arrieta, one of the Orioles' top pitching prospects. Britton hopes he'll be able to be in the Orioles' rotation soon.

"I think this season has been a huge step," he said. "Even some nights when I haven't had my best stuff, I've gotten good results. The first year I didn't have a lot of confidence, but every year you need to get better and better. I'm in a good spot now."

Triple-A Norfolk

Infielder Scott Moore, who has been out since July 29 because of a fracture in the base of his left thumb, is expected to have his cast removed soon, but it's unknown whether he'll play again this season. ... Jon Leicester has allowed just one earned run in eight outings this month spanning 15 innings. ... Infielder Oscar Salazar has set a Tides record with 42 doubles.

Double-A Bowie

With their victory over Binghamton on Friday, the Baysox clinched their first playoff berth since 1997. ... How much has catcher Matt Wieters meant to Bowie? After last night's 10-5 win over Trenton, the Baysox are 37-20 since he joined Bowie on June 28 after his promotion from Frederick. ... In his past two starts, right-hander Jason Berken (12-3) has allowed only four hits in 14 shutout innings. ... Right-hander Chris Tillman (10-4) has struck out 44 batters in his past 30 innings and not allowed a run in his past three starts.

Single-A Frederick

Second baseman Miguel Abreu is batting .307 since the All-Star break. He hit .248 before the break. ... Right-hander Pedro Beato, a sandwich pick in the 2006 draft, continues to struggle, having allowed four earned runs or more in seven of his past eight starts to raise his ERA to 5.78. Beato has an 8.03 ERA in five August starts. ... Right-hander Tim Bascom has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of five starts.

Single-A Aberdeen

Shortstop Greg Miclat, the Orioles' fifth-round draft pick this season out of the University of Virginia, is 8-for-19 since joining Aberdeen. Left-handed pitcher Richard Zagone, who was taken a round after Miclat, had surrendered just one earned run and three hits over his past 12 innings before allowing two runs on seven hits in five innings yesterday. Catcher Caleb Joseph has 18 doubles.

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