Thirteen months and five days after his last MLB appearance, and two days after he was activated off the IL, Zack Britton finally made his return to the mound in the sixth inning of Saturday’s Yankees-Red Sox game.
“It was good; very anxious warming up and stuff, so good to get that one out of the way,” Britton said after the game. “Felt fine afterwards, so now it’s about putting together good outings and improving command. Stuff was actually okay, so it’s about getting back to being who I want to be and having good innings.
Unfortunately, the first outing did not go well; a walk, a single, a swinging strikeout, and two more walks later, Britton was out of the game after just one-third of an inning, and thankfully, Lou Trivino’s strong outing left Britton with just the one run allowed on that hit and three walks.
“I thought stuff-wise he looked good,” manager Aaron Boone said of Britton. “Obviously not a great line or one of his best performances, but I didn’t feel like it was one where he was searching, he was just a tick off command-wise. I thought his arm was quick, his stuff was sharp, and the sinker was there.”
“I want to be much better than that,” Britton said. “The velocity definitely upticked, and that was encouraging, and movement was good.
It’s just a matter of commanding it, and that’s the next step.”
Britton last appeared on August 19, 2021, allowing one run in the eighth inning of a 7-5 Yankees win over Minnesota, but had Tommy John-type surgery three weeks later – a surgery that is possibly more of the “suture tape” sleeve-type than an actual UCL reconstruction.
The lefty began a rehab assignment earlier this month and made eight appearances across three levels, allowing one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings, with just two walks against seven strikeouts – but Saturday was the complete opposite of that, at least in terms of the line.
“He came in and got ahead of Raffy (Devers), and even though he walked him, I thought he was competitive the whole at-bat. He lost the zone a little with Enrique (Hernandez), but was competitive with (Triston) Casas,” Boone noted of Britton’s three walks. “It was good to see the stuff there, though, and hopefully get through the first one and build on something.”
“That’s a hold situation in a tight game against the heart of their lineup, so that’s the situation I want to be in. That was a really good test, and obviously, I want to be better,” Britton added.
Perhaps he was a little rattled by it being his first day dealing with PitchCom – although, even though he liked it, he joked “I feel like everyone in the Stadium can hear what I was throwing” – but he got some good, calming vibes from a newer teammate (to him at least).
“I was trying to get in rhythm with PitchCom, and (Anthony) Rizzo did a great job, he came up to me and said, ‘I get it,’ and reminded me of the situation,” Britton said. “Those are things you have to remember when you’re out there – I’m not just going to lay a pitch in and let them get back in the game.”
Despite missing the entire season up until this week, the Yankees are hopeful Britton can be a strong bullpen option for the team entering the postseason. Several hurlers have struggled of late, and with Wandy Peralta placed on the IL and ineligible to come back until the final series, Britton may get several opportunities over the next two weeks as Boone looks to build his best October bullpen.
“That is what it is; we got Britt and (Scott) Effross back today, and those two guys have the chance to impact us,” Boone said. “We’re real optimistic about what Wandy (Peralta) is going to be in a week – we have no other choice, and this is an opportunity. The reality is we have really good arms and options, and it’s an opportunity for someone to grab a more important role going forward.”
“I don’t think it’s going to take many outings; if the velocity is there and the movement is back, it’s just a matter of the command coming back and being back and getting comfortable on a major-league mound,” Britton added. “I think it was just the uptick in adrenaline and honing it all in, but I need to get back on an MLB mound and face hitters, and see if I can be an asset for the team in the postseason.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN