SARASOTA, FL – For some major leaguers spring training is about re-acclimating to the game of baseball after an offseason of rest and limited workouts.
For others, like 25-year-old starting pitcher Zach Britton, spring training is about proving that they belong in Major League Baseball.
After an up-and-down couple of seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Britton has his sights set on a starting spot in their rotation come opening day.
Britton was drafted in the third round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Orioles and was considered by Baseball America to be one of the top 25 prospects in 2010, although neither of those distinctions has led to consistent play at the big league level thus far.
“I’ve been pretty inconsistent so far in my major league career and that’s something I want to change this year,” Britton said, at the Orioles spring training compound in Sarasota, Florida. “[I have to] make sure that every time I go out on the mound [the Orioles] know what they are going to get.”
The mental aspect of the game is something that Britton has struggled with since joining the Orioles.
He knows just how important that part of the game is, believing that it can be the difference between being a consistent starter and a fringe player, clinging on to the end of a roster.
“At the major league level its belief at times,” Britton says about the key to consistency. “You face good hitters and sometimes you go out there with your best stuff and you get hit around and it kind of shakes you a bit.”
That confidence that Britton is talking about was something that wavered for him last season when, for the first time in his career, he suffered an injury that caused him to miss a substantial portion of the season.
“It was tough. I was down here [in Sarasota] pretty much up until the all-star break before rejoining the team,” Britton said. “Being down here by yourself, having to go through rehab — it’s sometimes hard to get motivated and you see the team doing well and you want to be there.”
Despite claiming about half of his 2012 season, that shoulder injury helped teach Britton a valuable lesson about baseball.
“I think you take [health] for granted sometimes when you are fully healthy,” Brittion said.
“As a young guy, coming up through the minors you kinda skip out on workouts here and there or shoulder maintenance that you need to do just because you think you are invincible at a young age. Then the first injury bug comes around and you do appreciate it. You take it more seriously.”
That appreciation now runs a little deeper, as Britton has matured through the injury and rehab process.
With all of this in his rear-view mirror, Britton managed to go 5-3 with an ERA of 5.07 in 12 games with the Orioles last season. Those weren’t exactly ideal numbers, but they signaled to Britton that he was ready to return to form and chase a spot in the ever-changing Orioles starting rotation.
Heading into spring training, and eventually the regular season, Britton has set his focus on achieving two main goals.
“Stay healthy — that’s the number one goal obviously. And then just give the team a chance to win every time I get on the hill,” Britton said.
Given what Britton has learned over the course of the last 12 months, he has put himself in an excellent position to achieve those goals.