ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Yankees, likely to be in the market at the trade deadline for another bullpen arm to add to their already effective stable of them, could be getting a reinforcement in that area from an unlikely source after the deadline passes.
Lefthander Zack Britton, who underwent reconstructive surgery on his elbow last September, said in the spring he expected to pitch at some point this season.
At the time that seemed a remote possibility and, while the reliever still has plenty of hurdles to clear in that regard and the Yankees aren’t counting on his return in 2022, indications nonetheless are Britton is headed in that direction.
“I want to be ready to go,” he said. “I want to be in a position to help the team in the playoffs. It’s not just getting back, it’s getting in position to make a postseason roster and hopefully impact a team in the playoffs.”
Britton threw a bullpen session Tuesday at the club’s minor-league complex, his velocity resting in the mid-80’s, according to pitching coach Matt Blake. That is far off from the mid to high-90’s where Britton typically sits but it’s also where his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, said he would be at this milepost after the surgery.
Additionally, the 34-year-old, due to be a free agent after the season, said post-surgery the way his arm feels reminds him of his peak years with the Orioles (such as in 2016 when Britton posted a 0.54 ERA in 63 games).
“I’m right in line with where Dr. ElAttrache told me I would be,” Britton said. “My arm feels really good, my arm feels really fast. That was one thing that was always a thing for me in Baltimore was how fast my arm was and it feels back to that so that’s a good sign.”
Britton, who struggled with discomfort in his arm and elbow much of last season in posting a 5.89 ERA in 22 outings, said he has not established a specific date in his mind for when he believes he’ll be back.
But he was given a 12-month timeframe from the time of his surgery, which theoretically, with no setbacks, would put him back in the majors sometime in September.
“I don’t have a hard date. July is going to be a big month, August, obviously, is important, too,” Britton said. “But I’ve been trying not to put any dates in my head. I want to follow the program, not go too fast. But I’ve been feeling good every step of the way and I think the acceleration — if there is one in this – would be when the rehab games start. Right now, I don’t have a time. I know that if I just follow the program I’m going to be pitching in the big leagues this year just based on our conversation with the doctor, if everything goes as planned. That’s always been the goal when I had the surgery – was able to pitch this year in the big leagues.”
Aaron Boone watched the session, in which Britton threw primarily sinkers, and called it “really encouraging.”
But in saying a September return is “certainly realistic to think about and probably in play,” Boone quickly cautioned, “but we’re a ways away from there.”
Because the reality is the rehab process for pitchers coming off the serious surgery Britton had, while occasionally going off without a hitch, isn’t typically the case.
“I think he’s got a real firm handle on it and a real good head about it,” Boone said. “I think he’s balancing that excitement about how good he’s feeling…and the fact it’s going really well, but also understanding where he is with the timeline and making sure he doesn’t push too hard and then fall into a setback or something. Encouraged by where he’s at, but I think he’s got a good head about it.”