The Baltimore Orioles can’t keep giving the ball to Zach Britton.
That much was clear in his latest outing, a forgettable 2.1 IP, four-run performance on six hits that put the O’s down early in a 6-4 loss against a Cleveland Indians team that they couldn’t afford to lose to. It capped their third straight series loss against a playoff race rival that they didn’t need, and put an extra team ahead of them to leap over in their quest to make the postseason.
So it’s with little surprise that the Orioles optioned the youngster down to the minors after the game. Whether he’ll actually make his way back to the majors for another start, however, is another issue altogether.
Though it’s fairly common for teams to call up arms from the minors towards the end of the season so they have opportunities to eat innings, the Orioles are at a spot where they need quality innings over the final stretch of the season to play some October baseball. It’s not to say that recently-promoted Steve Johnson will give them that, but it’s hard to see where Britton will fit in at this point after he makes his next turn in the minors.
You could reasonably say that the team probably doesn’t have any plans for him to pitch out of the bullpen in September, as he’s had just one outing as a reliever in the majors. With Jason Hammel having been activated from the DL though, what would be the impetus for manager Buck Showalter to use him out of the bullpen if the choice came down to him and Britton?
Besides, the rotation is already five deep even if neither Hammel or Britton are accounted for, even if it is not without its question marks in the back end. Should they make the playoffs, they won’t need all five, so it’s not like there are significant workload concerns here.
In short, Britton is already the odd man out, and though he may be finally healthy this season, the stuff just hasn’t quite come together.
Yes, the four-start stretch he showed in the middle of June to the beginning of July suggests that he’s far from being a lost cause at 25-years old, but what the Orioles need these days are certainty and reliability over potential, and even if the lefty happens to dominate in the minors in his next turn, there’s simply little reason for them to have him take the mound again when every game matters.
Well, if they want to stay in the playoff race right to the end, anyway.