This Friday I headed up to Bowie to unwind and take in a Baysox game. It's been a tough week; less than a month ago I packed up everything I owned and moved from upstate New York into northern Virginia. When you move away from what has been our home, a lot of little things can really start to pile up on you - that's how life goes , I suppose - but it wasn't anything cold beer and good baseball couldn't cure.
Which of course the Orioles haven't been providing. So I went to Bowie to see the Baysox play the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Top Orioles pitching prospect Zach Britton was taking the hill against another of baseball's top pitching prospects: Kyle Drabek, son of Doug, who the Blue Jays had acquired in the Roy Halladay trade. And erstwhile Orioles Adam Loewen was playing right field for New Hampshire, too! I'd be stupid not to go to this game!
I hadn't seen Britton before Friday, but I had of course heard all of the hype: extreme sinkerballer with the ability to miss bats, but in need of polish and consistency with his slider/change. I'm a professed gigantic sucker for sinkerballers, and Britton has a 64.2% ground ball rate, so I had some high hopes. I did note, though, that Britton's K numbers had dipped so far this year, and minor league splits show some relatively strong struggles against right-handed batters:
Britton didn't disappoint. The Fisher Cats pounded a lot of balls into the ground, and Britton only allowed a single free pass (to a righty) and a single run (on a no doubt about it solo shot to left by another righty) in six innings. There were two specific instances in the game that stuck with me. Let's call them "Defining Moments":
1) As previously mentioned, Britton allowed a long solo homer that broke a 0-0 tie with two outs in the top of the fourth, and New Hampshire followed with two screaming line drives. Zach was teetering on the brink here. He had thrown 23 pitches in the inning and was in big trouble with another righty coming up. And yet, like a seasoned veteran, he looked completely unfazed and induced a weak grounder to himself and then deftly threw the runner out. No sweat.
2) Adam Loewen came to the plate in the 6th inning, two outs and a runner on third and Bowie leading 3-1. Loewen was sitting 1 for 2 with a hard liner to right on the night, with two lengthy duels (a total of 19 pitches), and the chance to get New Hampshire back into this game. Catcher Caleb Joseph went out to talk to Britton on the mound for the first time all night. Britton was clearly running out of gas after 98 pitches and I couldn't help but think "Smart kid, that Joseph". Loewen watched the first five pitches to run the count full, with Britton bouncing a couple of pitches. The sixth pitch was the four-seamer. Loewen gave it a good cut but missed, and Britton had finished his start in the best, most poetic way.
For the night, Britton went six innings with four strikeouts, a walk, a homer, and eleven grounders out of nineteen contacted balls. On the negative side of things, Zach had a tough time Friday throwing his offspeed pitches (mostly sliders) for swings-and-misses, and his secondary stuff certainly remains a work in progress. But the sinker was working its wonderful magic, Britton showed some terrific mound presence, and Bowie went on to post the 5-1 win.
Can't argue with that.