During the 2016 season, future Hall of Famer David Ortiz of the Red Sox grabbed then-Orioles reliever Zach Britton for a chat up in Boston.
“The year that he was retiring, he pulled me aside one time in Fenway and he kind of just described, ‘Your ball starts here and then it’s gone,’ ” Britton, with his hand outstretched simulating Ortiz’s description, said Thursday. “That was probably the best compliment I’ve gotten from a guy like him.”
Most of the other comments about Britton’s power sinker cannot be printed.
But that is part of the repertoire the Yankees hope they have added at the cost of three pitching prospects, including Dillon Tate, to make the deepest bullpen on the planet even deeper. Britton already showed his value by pitching a scoreless eighth inning in the Yankees’ 7-2 win over the Royals at the Stadium on Thursday, needing just 10 pitches to retire the side in order.
Britton at one point in his career converted 60 straight save chances, the second-longest streak in major league history, trailing only Eric Gagne’s 84. Now he joins a team with almost as many closers as championship trophies. Britton, whose appeal includes AL East familiarity, said he told manager Aaron Boone to put him on the mound, regardless of the inning.
“I’m ready for whatever situation he wants to use me in,” said Britton, who was 1-0 with four saves and a 3.45 ERA for Baltimore since returning from injury this season. “I understand what [Aroldis] Chapman’s done in this game and I respect it. So I just want to be used anyway I can to help.”
Britton, 30, has 139 saves since 2011 and was an All-Star in 2015 and 2016. He suffered a ruptured Achilles during an offseason workout in December and was out until June 12. Walking into the Yankees’ clubhouse was “like the first day of school,” he said.
“I feel good,” said Britton, whose mother is Dominican (“I know I don’t look it,” he said with a shrug). “The more innings I get, the better I’ve been feeling. … The strength was an issue coming back. I lost a lot of weight after the surgery, a lot of strength.
“As I’ve put on that weight, a lot of the strength has come back, the velocity’s coming back and I’m starting to feel more like myself. I’ve seen signs the last month, [so] just go out and just pitch the way I’m capable of pitching.”
Which could make a nasty Yankees bullpen downright obscene.
“The evolution of this pen and how it looks now is a lot deeper and stronger than it’s ever been,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “I do wonder what it’s gonna look like in a few years, because you can’t maintain something to this level. … This is a pretty impressive crew we have had to deploy over the last couple years. It is obviously a major strength and we see how managers have deployed assets out of the pen much earlier in games and playoff competition. We hope to put ourselves in position to at least have that choice.”
One thing the Yankees have is choice. Chapman to close. Dellin Betances to set up. David Robertson. Chad Green. Now Britton.
“Makes the game shorter. At the same time it gives Boone a chance to give us days off when we need,” Betances said, uttering the understatement of the day. “We’re pretty deep.”
Middle of the Pacific Ocean deep.
“Adding a guy like that, a tremendous pitcher, a great arm, great abilities just makes the bullpen so much better,” Chapman said through an interpreter while praising Britton’s sinker. “An excellent pitch. He’s been able to do the job for years using that pitch.”