Orioles option four, including Britton

The Orioles whittled the fifth-starter competition by one, optioning left-handed pitcher Zach Britton to Triple-A Norfolk as part of four cuts prior to Saturday afternoon’s game.

“I think you understand that you have some fierce competition and guys have thrown better than me, plain and simple,” said Britton, who posted a 6.10 ERA in five official spring games and allowed three earned runs over two innings against Team Spain on March 6.

“Jake [Arrieta] has been throwing the ball well. And it’s a competition. He’s definitely proven that he probably deserves it. Him and [Brian Matusz] have thrown the ball real well, you can’t take anything away from those guys. I think I have stuff I need to work on. Mentally, I don’t think I was feeling like I was ready to be with the team and I’m sure they saw that.

I need to get some things straightened out at Minor League camp. And it’s a lot easier to do that rather than being in that competition and really trying to get people out. In Minor League camp I can do some things a little bit differently and not worry about those results.”

Britton, 25, started last year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury and went 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) after being activated and optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. And while he arrived at camp this spring healthy and in much better shape –as part of a group that worked out in California with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson– there are still things mechanically that need to be fixed.

“There were things that I did last year with my arm slot that was probably making my sinker inconsistent,” he said. “Being my best pitch, you don’t want that to be inconsistent. Getting confident with that pitch again and attacking hitters with that pitch is something they want me getting back to.

“There was no timetable set [to return to the Majors]. They were like, ‘Hey, you’ve done well when you’re healthy. There’s definitely things we think you can improve on to be more consistent as a pitcher’. They didn’t say this, but I’m getting to that age where you have to start putting some consistency together. With where the options are with me right now, it’s definitely, ‘Hey figure it out, let’s get consistent so I can stick in the big leagues from now on and not go through the up-and-down process anymore.”

Britton, 16-14 with a 4.74 career big-league ERA, said he hopes to get things straightened out over the first month of the season and be an option to rejoin the Orioles as needed after that. His departure from Major League camp leaves Arrieta and Matusz as the main candidates for the fifth starter job, with Steve Johnson, Jair Jurrjens and Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland –who is expected to get his first Grapefruit League start next week– all still in the mix.

“For me, I had that bad outing last time and that hurt my chances,” Britton said. “But guys that have thrown well and do get sent down, I think that affects them. It’s tough. You want to pitch well and make the team, and when that doesn’t happen, I think it hurts those guys a little more. But I feel like there’s stuff I need to work on and get better at.”

Matusz, McFarland and Johnson could also be bullpen options if they don’t make the rotation although having three lefties –Matusz, McFarland and TroyPatton—is hard to imagine and would require either a trade or the Orioles losing McFarland in the Rule-5 rules.

Infielders Jonathan Schoop and Yamaico Navarro were also optioned to Triple-A and left-handed pitcher Daniel McCutchen was reassigned to Minor League camp to round out Saturday’s cuts.

Schoop, the organization’s top position player prospect, hit his first spring homer in Friday’s game against the Rays and the 21-year-old missed a good chunk of camp to play for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

The Orioles now have 40 players at Major League spring training, including 11 non-roster invitees.

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