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Zach Britton strengthens Yankees’ bullpen, Brian Cashman says

Orioles closer Zach Britton throws during the ninth

Orioles closer Zach Britton throws during the ninth inning against the Yankees on July 9, 2018. Credit: AP / Scott Taetsch

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Brian Cashman said his push to upgrade the rotation will very much continue in earnest in advance of the trade deadline.

But in the meantime, with the price tags in a thin starting pitching market still prohibitively high, the Yankees GM will sit back and watch with interest a bullpen that was already among baseball’s best.

A bullpen that now has lefty Zach Britton, an addition Cashman made late Tuesday night.

“Our bullpen,” Cashman said on a conference call Wednesday, “is really strong.”

The 30-year-old Britton, who has a 3.45 ERA in 16 games this season with the Orioles, was not in St. Petersburg for Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the Rays, and instead will join his new team Thursday when the Yankees start a four-game series against the Royals at the Stadium.

Aaron Boone said he envisions Britton filling “a variety of different roles” in the late innings, but that Aroldis Chapman will remain in his role.

“Chappy’s our closer,” Boone said.

Chapman has been terrific this season, going 25-for-26 in saves while posting a 2.03 ERA. But he’s been battling tendinitis in his left knee much of the season so Britton gives a measure of protection should that issue become more pronounced.

Cashman said Chapman’s knee wasn’t a factor in the trade but it does give the club insurance if he, or anyone else, goes down.

“If somebody, God forbid, ever got hurt, we have another legitimate, quality option in choice that can reinforce us,” Cashman said. “It hopefully covers us a lot of different ways.”

Britton gives the Yankees, who entered Wednesday with an AL-best bullpen ERA of 2.75 and AL-leading 448 strikeouts from their relievers, four pitchers with closing experience, joining Chapman, David Robertson and Betances.

Britton, who was drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2006 draft and made his big-league debut in 2011, did not make his first 2018 relief appearance until June 12 as he spent the first part of the season rehabbing a torn right Achilles tendon. He had a 7.04 ERA after eight appearances but he hasn’t allowed a run in eight straight games. Britton has allowed three hits and four walks while striking out six in that stretch.

It was just two years ago that Britton turned in one of the greatest seasons any reliever has had. In 2016 Britton posted a 0.54 ERA and saved 47 games in 69 appearances, putting him in the discussion not only for the AL Cy Young but for MVP honors as well. From Sept. 20, 2015, to Aug. 23, 2017, Britton converted 60 straight saves to set an AL record.

“How close he is to the All-Star guy [he was], I don’t know,” Cashman said. “Our hope is we’ll be able to see something like that on a consistent basis. He obviously had a major injury he came back from and he’s missed a lot of time in knocking the rust off and closing the gap on where he was and what he’s capable of. Hopefully the best is yet to come.”

The move was enthusiastically endorsed by the Yankees’ clubhouse.

“He’s just a tough at-bat,” said Aaron Hicks, who is just 0-for-2 in his career vs. Britton but has seen him plenty from the dugout. “When a guy throws 98 miles per hour and it goes straight down, it’s kinda hard to hit. It’s not a fun at-bat.”

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