NEW YORK – Zack Britton is familiar with all the various scenarios to play an MLB season in 2020.
As the Yankees’ player representative, the lefty reliever is the point man – relaying information to his teammates and voicing their concerns, even as one question remains impossible to answer.
When might the baseball season begin?
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter until the virus gets under control and cities and people are able to get back to normal everyday lives, let alone being able to go watch baseball or play baseball,’’ Britton told Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio earlier this month.
All the restrictions and the realities of this COVID-19 world must be considered, though there have recently been some hopeful signs of playing some sort of truncated schedule by July.
During Britton’s last appearance on a spring training mound, he managed to dodge a bullet.
Exhibition games were about to be suspended and Britton was tossing live batting practice, inside an empty Steinbrenner Field, when Erik Kratz lashed a line drive off the left-hander’s right wrist.
CT scans and X-rays came back negative, leaving Britton with just a bruise.
“I got pretty lucky,’’ Britton said at the time. “Because it could have been pretty bad.’’
Days later, Britton revealed that the Yankees players had overwhelmingly decided to remain at Tampa spring training, for as long as the camps were open and available.
But soon, the COVID-19 crisis, and the two positive cases revealed in Yankees minor league camp, ended that plan. Britton went home to Austin, Texas, where he recently built a personal gym.
The bowling ball sinker has always been Britton’s signature pitch, inducing groundballs and swings and misses on pitches that disappear from the strike zone.
But his arsenal has lately been improved by the increased use of his slider.
Reader — our columnists travel the country to break pro sports news and provide insightful analysis. Support our team by subscribing today — see our special offers.
“With the help of the Yankees analytical staff, I discovered that I actually had a really good breaking ball, and I was able to use that more,’’ Britton told MLB Network Radio recently. “And it made my sinker even better.’’
The re-introduction of a slider, as a complement to the sinker, helped Britton pitch to a 1.91 ERA last season (66 games) in his first full season as a Yankee.
Britton, 32, was admittedly not much into analytics when the Yankees acquired him from Baltimore in July of 2018, in exchange for three minor league pitchers.
As a free agent following the 2018 season, Britton signed a three-year, $39 million contract that contains a $14 million club option for the 2022 season.
In its current language, the Yankees must exercise the option after the 2020 World Series.
Failing to trigger that option would allow Britton the choice to immediately opt out of his remaining deal and become a free agent.
The slider was a pitch that Britton had used only sparingly when the Yankees’ analytics staff showed him statistical and video evidence that it could be a plus-pitch for him.
Britton had authored one of the greatest seasons by any modern reliever with the 2016 Orioles, going 47-for-47 in save situations and pitching to a 0.54 ERA.
Yet, since coming back from a February 2018 Achilles injury, Britton had struggled more often with his command.
Coming over to the Yankees, Britton eventually found the slider as something he could regularly throw for strikes, which boosted his overall command.
“Honestly, it took me until the (2019) All-Star break...to buy into throwing it more,’’ Britton said of the slider.
He’s throwing it roughly 20-25 percent of the time now, giving hitters something else to be wary of, “and it became a huge weapon,’’ Britton said.