NEW YORK — Zack Britton jogged in from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium for the first time in over a year on Saturday afternoon, making his first appearance on a big-league mound since undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall.
A sellout crowd of over 47,000 fans cheered as the left-hander was introduced to begin the top of the sixth in relief against the Red Sox, giving the veteran his moment after a lengthy journey of rehab behind the scenes.
Once the fanfare died down and Britton's first inning off the 60-day injured list began, however, the buzz in the ballpark shifted. Britton went on to record just one out, allowing an earned run on one hit and three walks.
With New York's lead deteriorating, Britton's pitch count rising and the bases loaded, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was forced to pull the plug, bringing right-hander Lou Trivino in from the bullpen. Trivino was able to step up and get out of the jam without any more damage, sparking some celebratory fist bumps and hugs for Britton in the Yankees' dugout.
"Very anxious warming up," Britton said after the game, a 7-5 win for New York over Boston. "Good to get that one out of the way. Felt fine afterwards. So now it's about obviously putting together good outings, improving the command, stuff was actually okay. It's about getting back to being where I want to be, throwing late in games and contributing, having good innings."
Command was a clear issue for Britton right away on Saturday. He walked Rafael Devers, the first batter he was faced. After a single from Xander Bogaerts, Britton struck Alex Verdugo out on a pretty slider biting across the zone. He then walked two more batters, each on four pitches. The final pitch he threw—a sinker leaking inside to Triston Casas—walked in a run.
"I want to be much better than that. But the velocity definitely upticked and that was encouraging I think for everybody," the reliever explained. "Movement was good, it's just a matter of commanding it and that's the next step."
Britton averaged 93.3 mph on his sinker, topping out at 94.7. For a pitcher just 12 months removed from left elbow surgery, that's a promising number. Quite frankly, the command is understandable. Saturday was Britton's first MLB outing since August 19, 2021. It's going to take Britton some time to readjust and find his groove.
Boone's evaluation of the southpaw's performance was even more complimentary.
"I thought stuff-wise, he looked good," Boone said, walking through all five plate appearances. "Obviously it wasn't a great line for him, not one of his best performances, but it wasn't one of those where he was just searching. I didn't feel like that. I felt like he was just a tick off command-wise. It was good to see the stuff there."
After Saturday's win, the Yankees have 11 games remaining in the regular season and plenty of question marks in their bullpen. It's a time crunch, but it's also an avenue for Britton—who was once one of the best relievers in the sport—to earn a spot on New York's postseason roster, showing that he can be trusted out of the 'pen in high-leverage spots.
The best way for Britton to get back to that point over these next two weeks is reps.
"I need to get back on a Major League mound, face hitters consistently and see where I can be, if I can be an asset to the team in the playoffs because that's my goal," he said.
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