KISSIMMEE, FLA. — — Zach Britton and Chris Tillman, two of the Orioles' young guns and primary competitors for the open spots in the club's rotation, made the two-hour drive from Sarasota a day early.
They hung out on Friday night and then pitched impressively together on Saturday, combining to allow three runs (one earned) in nearly eight innings pitched in the Orioles' 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor suggested Friday that the two leave early.
"That way, we didn't have to wake up early and leave on the team bus," Britton said. "They put us up at a nice hotel. I thought that was really cool that they let us get a good night's sleep instead of getting up early and getting on the bus."
Britton certainly looked well-rested, mixing his four-seam fastball with his meal-ticket sinker for four scoreless innings against an Astros lineup that featured just three regular starters. Allowing four hits and two walks, Britton never had an easy inning, but he recorded two strikeouts and induced seven groundball outs.
"I felt pretty good," said Britton, who threw 38 of his 57 pitches for strikes. "I would have liked to have thrown more strikes. When I got ahead of hitters, I wasn't able to put them away. Got into some deep counts."
Britton, 23, has now thrown nine scoreless innings in three spring appearances, making a case to stick in the big leagues if the Orioles decide to throw their top pitching prospect into the big-league fire.
"Talking to people, they said I should just go out there and make the decision tough. Whether they have their mind made up or not, it doesn't affect the way I go out and pitch," Britton said. "I think I'm getting opportunities to start games and go deep into games, which is nice. Just try to work on things, but have good outings — just give them things to think about."
Tillman, 22, relieved Britton and threw three scoreless innings, including a perfect seventh, before giving up three runs (one earned) in the eighth. Third baseman Brandon Waring's throwing error extended the inning and allowed the Astros to get within one run.
Overall, Tillman allowed four hits and one walk while striking out one in 3 2/3 innings. He has allowed five earned runs in 8 2/3 innings this spring.
The Orioles grabbed the lead early, scoring three runs off Houston Astros' starter J.A . Happ in the second inning.
Minor league second baseman Ryan Adams, who was a last-minute addition to the lineup, hit a RBI double to score the first run and Robert Andino followed with a two-run bloop single for a 3-0 lead.
Adams, who had three hits, scored again in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Felix Pie. Brandon Snyder had three hits, including a solo homer, and two RBIs.
Britton and Tillman have built a strong rapport, despite possibly standing in the way of the other's Major League dreams.
"I think the friendship part is a good part of it," Tillman said. "We're there for each other in battle, and at the same time, pushing each other to do the best that we can. I think that's a real important role in baseball — especially for the younger guys."
The Orioles are now 7-6-2 this spring.