Shortly after the 2021 season ended, New York Yankees fans resigned to the belief that they had seen Zack Britton throw his final pitch in pinstripes that September.
Persistent elbow injuries forced Britton to undergo Tommy John surgery on Sept. 9, which, by safe estimate, realistically pegged him out for all of 2022 — his final year under contract.
That led to fans pondering if the Yankees could trade Britton and his salary to someone else and attach a prospect since cutting him loose wasn’t really on the table (he was one season away from securing 10-5 rights, and even the Yankees aren’t that heartless).
Or … perhaps they knew he’d somehow take the mound before the season ended, after all? Because Yankees fans were delivered a surprising update on Wednesday afternoon.
According to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, Britton is “doing really well” and already throwing at 120 feet just eight months after surgery.
Even more shocking? He might return to the bullpen “soon”! The complete reverse of the usual Yankees injury news fans are accustomed to!
Zack Britton might return to the New York Yankees soon
Typically, relievers coming off Tommy John return sooner than starters, but this really feels like an expedited timeline, meaning Britton’s recovery has gone exceptionally well. And what do you know! There’s a likelihood the Yankees are going to need bullpen reinforcements soon.
Aroldis Chapman is reverting back to the 2021 June/July version of himself and cannot be trusted as closer. Jonathan Loaisiga (5.52 ERA and 5.60 FIP) has witnessed the wheels fall off for whatever reason. Clay Holmes has been overused in the early going, already registering 18.1 innings to his name. Lucas Luetge has seen a dip in his numbers as well (4.66 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).
Now, the topic becomes Britton’s deployment if he’s able to return. He’s gradually proven over the last few seasons that his eye test doesn’t line up with his numbers. He often makes outings difficult by giving up hard contact and walking far too many batters for comfort.
However, he’s still an asset. Even with his career-worst 5.89 ERA in 2021 (he was pitching injured and coming off surgery), he owns a 2.60 ERA and 3.89 FIP in four seasons with New York. Fans will not be able to handle him and Chapman covering the majority of high-leverage innings, but an experienced, battle-tested arm such as Britton can still be utilized to Aaron Boone’s advantage to get this bullpen through the end of the 162-game marathon.