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With Zack Britton Ready to Rejoin Bullpen, Yankees Have Decision to Make

Britton said Wednesday that he's ready to return from Tommy John surgery and help out the rest of the way. Is there a spot for him in New York's bullpen?
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NEW YORK — Just over one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in his left elbow, Yankees reliever Zack Britton believes he's ready to rejoin New York's bullpen.

"I'm physically ready to come back and pitch. It's just a matter of what they want to do," Britton said at his locker at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

Britton underwent the procedure on September 9 last fall. He slowly built himself back up to begin a rehab assignment last month on August 24, making eight appearances with three different affiliates in the minor leagues.

In those eight appearances, Britton allowed one run, striking out seven of the 24 batters he faced. He added that he's not concerned about the slow build in his velocity. As long as the sinker is moving, he said, it doesn't matter how hard he's throwing.

While Britton has positioned himself to return, that doesn't mean he'll automatically have a spot in the 'pen right away. New York is managing a roster crunch with several key pieces also coming back from the injured list with others deserving of a roster spot still in pinstripes, awaiting their fate as well. With 15 games remaining in the regular season, including Wednesday against the Pirates, Yankees manager Aaron Boone and the coaching staff have some big decisions looming regarding the construction of their bullpen and overall pitching staff entering the playoffs.

"We've got to continue to get through these days from a pitching standpoint and usage and things like that," Boone said when asked if Britton will come back before the end of the regular season. "We're just going to continue to talk through it."

It goes without saying that a healthy Britton, who is able to recapture his old form, would be an invaluable piece for New York in the back of their bullpen heading into the postseason. This is a left-hander with plenty of high-leverage experience in his 11-year career. Subtract a rocky 2021 leading up to his injury—he had a 5.89 ERA in 22 outings last year—and Britton posted a 1.90 ERA with 11 saves and 69 strikeouts over 86 appearances from 2019 to 2020.

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Still, can Britton come back from Tommy John this quickly and instantly produce? Now isn't the time to experiment, with each game meaningful the rest of the way.

The fact of the matter is that Britton won't have enough time to truly get the volume he needs against MLB hitters to completely distance himself from this major surgery. He explained that the biggest challenge will be getting innings under his belt going forward. That said, simply being with the team again will be productive for him, giving the veteran a chance to acclimate himself back to a big-league schedule.

Regardless of all those stipulations, Britton was confident that he can help out. After all, at this stage in his career, he's not pursuing any personal accolades. He worked hard over the last 12 months to get to this point because he cares about one thing and one thing only.

"The reason why I pushed things is because I want to pitch this year for this team and help them win, for no other reason," he said. "There's no benefit for me personally, other than the fact that maybe I can have an impact on a World Series championship team. That's really the only goal for me at this stage of my career. I've gotten my contract, 34 years old, my reasons are much different now than when I was younger. 

"I want a ring. That's why I pushed this to come back and be an option for the team. Whether or not they activate me, that's up to them."

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