Shoulder will slow Britton at start of camp
Orioles left-hander spent time on DL with strain last season
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles pitcher Zach Britton will likely be limited in his activities at the start of Spring Training because he's been dealing with lingering left shoulder inflammation since August, but the 24-year-old still expects to compete for a rotation spot.
An MRI taken earlier this winter on Britton's shoulder showed no structural damage, and the plan is for him to throw Thursday from approximately 90 feet at the team's Spring Training complex. That session will take place under the supervision of head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, and they will form a throwing progression from there.
"Honestly, I think this is a minor issue," said Britton, who started experiencing problems with shoulder inflammation again when he began a throwing program in mid-December. "Obviously, the issue with me is not my strength, it's getting into my arm slot [without the inflammation]. If I can get into that arm slot tomorrow and not feel anything, I'm good to go as far as I'm concerned. Obviously, they are going to want to build me up, but I don't think I'll be that far behind."
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the club is "currently monitoring" Britton -- one of a handful of players already in Sarasota -- and the expectation is the club will have a better idea of his prognosis in the next few days.
Britton admitted previously that he showed up to last year's camp overprepared, and he tired considerably down the stretch of his rookie season. The lefty won five of his first six Major League starts and carried a 2.93 ERA into June, emerging as a legitimate American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate. But Britton won just one of his 14 starts that followed, and his ERA was 7.78 over a nine-start stretch that ended with him going on the DL.
Britton said Wednesday that the shoulder inflammation never really went away when he returned, but it wasn't enough of a problem to prevent him from making his final eight starts.
Britton sat down with team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens after the season, and the theory was that his inflammation would probably calm down with the winter's rest. But it came back when Britton started throwing, and it began to prevent him from getting loose -- particularly when he tried throwing on consecutive days -- leading him to drop his arm slot. He flew to Baltimore to see Wilckens again and also began working with Dr. Keith Meister -- who works with the Texas Rangers -- at TMI Sports Medicine. After Britton's MRI, he also started taking stronger anti-inflammatories, which he hadn't been on when he started throwing in December.
"I've felt great since," said Britton, who flew down to Sarasota early to continue his program with Bancells. "My range of motion is back, and I'm excited to throw [on Thursday] and see what it feels like. If it feels good, I think we can catch up on the bullpen [sessions] and stuff pretty quickly."
Britton expects to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Since pitchers and catchers won't hold their first official workout until this weekend, he has the luxury of time in making sure everything with his shoulder is 100 percent.
"This is something we've known about and just kind of kept to ourselves, because it wasn't ever a big issue," Britton said of his injury. "It was just something that we were dealing with. It was inflammation, and that's something that happens when you pitch. For some reason, mine was staying a little bit longer throughout the offseason. Now we're just making sure that's all out of there and we take care of it before I get up on the mound again."
MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette was the first to tweet about Britton's shoulder inflammation on Wednesday morning, saying the lefty would be limited to start camp. Britton won't be the only Oriole who is expected to be slowed in Spring Training. Right fielder Nick Markakis, who had abdominal surgery last month, is expected to be limited through the first week of March.
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.