Back on July 30, the New York Yankees shelled Baltimore Orioles’ rookie Zach Britton. The 23-year-old lefty struck out Derek Jeter to lead off the bottom of the first, but then gave up seven hits, a walk and nine runs — six of which were earned. Forty-three pitches later, Britton was done — and the Jeter K was his lone out.
Fast forward to Sunday, when Britton was going against nearly the same lineup — plus a healthy Alex Rodriguez — and tossed seven shutout innings en route to his eighth victory of the season. After such an abysmal outing last month, he allowed just four hits and a walk, while striking out five. None of Britton’s five Yankee baserunners reached second base. In fact, even after his exit, the Yankees failed to move a runner in to scoring position as Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg worked the final two innings to preserve the combined shutout.
As a rookie, Britton has a posted a groundball rate just under 54%. Against the Yankees on Sunday, he was right on track, inducing 10 grounders for a 52.6% rate. And it was Britton’s two-seam fastball that was on display. Britton threw 56 two-seamers — 38 of which went for strikes — according to Brooksbaseball.net. Perhaps most interesting is that each of his groundball outs came on a two-seamer — including an inning-ending double play in the fifth inning.
While Britton used the fastball to keep balls in play on the ground, he used his secondary pitchers to generate whiffs and mix speeds. Behind the sinker, in terms of usage, Britton threw 32 sliders with seven of them getting swings and misses (21.8%). His third pitch — a changeup — got 13 strikes on 18 pitches, including three more strikeouts. Britton got 13 empty swings on 120 pitches (a career-high).
Britton routinely used his secondary pitches in fastball counts, and that kept Yankee batters off balance. Facing 25 hitters on the day, he threw 12 non-fastballs on the first pitch – eight of which were sliders. His fourth-inning strikeout of Nick Swisher is a prime example of his approach this past weekend: After starting the at-bat with a changeup for a called strike, Britton fell behind in the count 3-1. But instead of grooving a fastball on 3-1, he threw a slider for a called strike. Following two foul balls — both on two-seamers — Britton pushed a 88 mph changeup past a swinging Swisher for the punch-out.
Britton’s win against the Yankees wasn’t dominating, and maybe it doesn’t mean much. Much like his shellacking in late July, it’s probably wise not to read too much in to one good start. But still, it’s encouraging to watch a young pitcher bounce back while exhibiting a sound process along the way.