Thursday Thoughts: Orioles Rushing Zach Britton Back Again?

orioles pitcher with arm back and about to throw ball
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. The Orioles, at times, have been the definition of weird baseball. That was evident once again on Tuesday night. Winning a game of that nature is rare.

How rare? According to former ESPN senior writer Jayson Stark and his minions, no team had ever blown a six-run lead in regulation then blown a three-run lead in extra innings and gone on to win the game.

The Elias Sports Bureau chips in with the fact that Chris Davis became the first player ever to hit two go-ahead home runs so late in a game (12th and 13th innings). Yeah, it stunk to have watched the bullpen let the leads slip away. It stunk to have to sit up so late (even later for you East coast folks) and watch that strange game. But what didn’t stink is the uniqueness of a game like that.

It’s why baseball is the absolute best. An otherwise mundane Tuesday night affair in mid-May turns into something not just incredibly rare, but never seen before.

2. Now about that bullpen. It’s not great. There’s a real issue in the O’s bullpen right now, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. The team is finally back where it should be with a seven-man bullpen, but none of those arms are providing much relief right now. Dan Duquette did his best to add arms in April, but there hasn’t been a ton of fruit from that tree.

Alec Asher appears to be something. What that “something” is, I’m not sure. The team likely sees him as a starter down the road, but that’s not the role he’s been filling to this point.

Edwin Jackson could be of some help here in the near future, but there’s no telling what the veteran will actually be able to provide.

It appears that Zach Britton’s absence really is impacting the entire chain of relievers, even the four that were trusted at the start of the season. What you see is what you get with the relievers right now. Unless something drastic is done, it might not get much better.

3. I was as surprised as anyone to see Craig Gentry sent down to Triple-A. I wasn’t mad about it, but I thought Buck Showalter liked the options Gentry gave him late in games for pinch running and defense. It’s gotten to a point where the roster crunch with the bullpen cost him. The real mystery is going to be how the O’s fit Michael Bourn onto the roster, if that’s something they want to do. Trey Mancini isn’t going anywhere. I doubt Joey Rickard’s right-handed bat would disappear. We haven’t even seen Hyun-Soo Kim in what feels like weeks, so perhaps he’s going to be on the move? The Orioles won’t just give him away, but it sure would seem like Bourn and Kim on the same roster is unlikely.

I’m very interested to see what kind of production Bourn can provide if he does make it up to the big league roster soon. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to perform, especially if he somehow pushes Kim off the team. Bourn can be a good hitter and provide pretty good defense and speed as well. He has tools that Kim doesn’t.

If that’s a move the Orioles really want to make, Bourn will have to make it worth their while.

4. Word came down yesterday that Zach Britton is starting a throwing program today in Sarasota. He’ll throw from 60 feet on flat ground, which led me to ask myself the following question – Already?

Doesn’t this seem early to start a throwing program? Just about ten days ago, the Orioles were providing a 45-60 day timeline for Britton, and he’s already starting to throw? I am not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be one on television. I don’t have anything close to medical credentials. It felt like the last time this forearm injury happened, Britton rushed back. As a matter of fact, he basically admitted to that.

This feels like déjà vu to me. I have the worst gut feeling that we’ll be hearing about a “setback” in a week and then PRP injections in three weeks. Then Tommy John surgery by August. Call me a skeptic. It’s not what I want to hear. I want Britton back as soon as possible, not just for the Orioles, but for my fantasy team!

I’m very nervous about all of this, however, and I have no clue how a throwing program could be starting already. It raises weird alarms with me. But again, I know nothing.

5. For all of the “bad” going on right now with the Orioles, let’s all sit back and remember that while they could be better, they could also be worse. Remember that Kevin Gausman has been downright awful this season. Chris Tillman has only made a handful of starts after missing the first month. Britton is out. Manny Machado really hasn’t been the “Manny Machado” we think he can be. Yet the Orioles are right in the thick of things and are 23-15 on the season. With all of those things going poorly, it could be a lot worse.

Sure, there have been a lot of things going right for the O’s. Welington Castillo, Seth Smith and Trey Mancini have all been very good with the bat. Wade Miley and Dylan Bundy have been treats in the rotation. These are trends that will likely equal out by the end of the season.

The real question is whether or not the bad parts can be fixed before things start to equal out. That’ll be the key to keeping this team afloat.

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