O's option Britton, narrowing list for fifth starter
Top prospect Schoop also among roster moves as 40 remain in big league camp
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles narrowed their fifth-starter competition by one, optioning left-hander Zach Britton to Triple-A Norfolk as part of four cuts prior to Saturday afternoon's 13-4 loss against the Phillies.
"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 Grapefruit League 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," said Britton, who is 16-14 with a 4.74 ERA in 16 career big league appearances. "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 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.
"His sinker has been inconsistent, yeah. I'd agree with that part of it," manager Buck Showalter said. "I think Zach is smart enough, mature enough, knows where this is right now and where it could be down the road. So I don't have any doubt he's going to go down there and do the things it takes for us to continue to think good things about him. And we do, we do. He won't be the last guy we will be having this conversation about."
Matusz, McFarland and Johnson could also be bullpen options if they don't make the rotation, although having three lefties -- Matusz, McFarland and Troy Patton -- is hard to imagine and would require either a trade or the Orioles losing McFarland due to his Rule 5 status.
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 after missing much of camp to play for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
"Time for him to go down there and get ready for his season," Showalter said of Schoop, who is expected to be Triple-A Norfolk's starting shortstop. "He's got 40-something plate appearances, he's where he needs to be. Also wanted to send him out on a good note, didn't want to make him top that one [yesterday]."
While Schoop will start off at shortstop, he isn't locked into one position and will continue to be an option at second base and third base for the organization going forward.
"I said if there was one position you thought you were best at and would like to play every day ... he wouldn't give it up," Showalter said. "Basically he said, 'As long as I get a chance to swing the bat, you can put me wherever you want to.' I said, 'Left field?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Catch?' He said, 'No.'
"I think he's capable of playing all three. We are going to start him out at the most difficult one from what I understand, and go from there. Last year he had the same basic weight, but it was a different body composition. This year, it's the same weight, but he's got some things going on that really give him a chance. He's a big, strong young man. He's had a whirlwind year, so to speak, so far."
The Orioles now have 40 players at Major League Spring Training, including 11 non-roster invitees.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.