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What Zack Britton's Elbow Surgery Means For the Yankees' Bullpen

LAKELAND, Fla. — Left-hander Zack Britton will undergo orthoscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his left elbow over the next few days, the Yankees announced on Tuesday afternoon.

Britton, who had yet to make his debut in spring training exhibition games, felt soreness in his elbow over the weekend after throwing a bullpen. He went for an MRI the following day and results revealed that surgery was needed. 

"He's going to head to New York to have the surgery," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said on Tuesday. "As far as timetables, we'll have more in the coming day or two days."

Missing an extended period of time due to the surgery, the 33-year-old will almost certainly be unavailable for Opening Day next month. Further, he'll need to ramp up once he's cleared to throw again, extending the amount of time that will pass before he's able to rejoin the big-league club.

Speaking about what led to Britton's injury, before the results of the MRI were revealed, Boone noted that the reliever dealt with a case of COVID-19 over the offseason. Factoring a case of the coronavirus, preventing Britton from working out, with such a unique workload in 2020, could have contributed to the injury.

"I think set him back a little bit in his build up," Boone explained. "He's actually been throwing pretty well early in spring. After his bullpen the other day, which was successful and he didn't feel anything, it was after the fact that he started to feel something. So we just wanted to make sure we get some pictures of it and ran through the tests."

The good news is that Britton doesn't need Tommy John surgery. It appears that the ligament is intact. It's a similar situation, in that sense, to what pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt is going through at the moment. 

Clarke Schmidt Isn't Letting His Elbow Strain Change His Goals For This Season

With Britton out for the foreseeable future, however, another spot in the bullpen opens up for one of New York's young arms to make this club's Opening Day roster. Earlier this spring, Boone called New York's pitching staff the deepest group of arms that he's coached since taking over as the Yankees' manager. 

Additions like left-hander Justin Wilson and veteran right-hander Darren O'Day will help eat up innings out of the 'pen, but more pressure will likely be placed on late-inning arms like Chad Green and closer Aroldis Chapman. This could be an opportunity for someone like Jonathan Loaisiga to also take on a bigger role, pitching in pressure-filled situations early on.

As the competition for the fifth spot in the Yankees' rotation continues this spring, Britton's injury could open the door for a pitcher that's typically a starter to make the team as well. Perhaps Boone will carry a sixth starter—like Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King or even Nick Nelson—as a way to be creative with the rotation through the first month of the regular season.

It's also worth noting, if the Yankees want to replace Britton early on with another left-hander, non-roster invitee Lucas Luetge has been incredibly impressive so far this spring. He's struck out eight of the 11 batters he's faced, getting the attention of New York's coaching staff.

This Southpaw Is Catching the Yankees' Attention Early On This Spring

Either way, Britton's presence in the back of this club's dynamic bullpen will be missed. Over three years in pinstripes, Britton has posted a spectacular 2.14 ERA in 105.1 innings with 14 saves and 90 strikeouts. 


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