ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Zack Britton was back at the Yankees clubhouse on Wednesday, and sure enough, he quickly struck up a conversation with Clay Holmes.
The subject of world-class sinking fastballs seemed to be on the agenda.
These days, Holmes closes out Yankees games and Britton returns to a Major League mound, following Tommy John’s surgery last September.
“That was always the goal, when I had this surgery, was to be able to pitch this year in the major leagues,” said Britton, who has taken over the reliever pitching sessions.
There’s no specific target date for Britton to return to the Yankees’ relief corps, but September — 12 months after surgery — is the overall goal.
“July is going to be a big month. August is also big, but I tried not to put dates in my head,” Britton said.
Based on conversations with his doctors, “If I’m just going through the (rehab) program, I’ll be kicking into the big leagues this year.”
Back in the Bronx
In a break from rehab in Florida, Britton will accompany the Yankees home after Wednesday night’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Britton is due to kick off his next bullpen at Yankee Stadium, and manager Aaron Boone wants the veteran southpaw to be around his teammates and feel part of the first-place atmosphere in the Bronx.
“It’s something Boonie had talked about, feeling like a season in the Major League,” Britton said. “You are here (in rehab), you are far from it.
“It’s not just about playing, but it’s about the journey, the daily grind of going out on the pitch, the competition.”
And it hasn’t been easy, being detached from the excitement around the AL East leaders.
“You want to come back and be part of it,” Britton said. “I just can’t wait to pitch in and help (our) team. I don’t want to come back… and be anything other than what I was.
“Hopefully I can get a World Series ring out of it. It would be worth it.
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Britton, 34, is in the final year of his contract, having appeared in just 22 games during an essentially lost 2021 season.
But shortly after his elbow reconstruction surgery and the removal of a bone chip by Dr. Neal ElAttrache on September 9, Britton said his arm felt refreshed.
“The arm feels really fast,” Britton said, comparing it to his earlier career as the Baltimore Orioles’ closest All-Star. “It looks like it’s back to that, so that’s a good sign.”
Above all, he is “just in line” with Dr. ElAttrache’s prognosis. Recently, Britton asked his former Baltimore pitching coach Dave Wallace for additional comment.
And he got some wise advice from future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander, making a terrific comeback from Tommy John surgery with the Houston Astros, the Yanks’ opponent this weekend.
“You watch a guy like him come back and it’s obvious he has a special talent,” Britton said. “But it makes you feel good about going through the process and where you will be at the end.”
In the lab
Britton threw mostly sinkers in his early bullpen sessions, keeping his speed in the 80 mph range.
“They didn’t really give me more than two weeks notice,” Britton said of his rehab schedule. “Because they know I’m going to start looking ahead.”
So Michael Schuk, the club’s director of sports medicine and rehabilitation, “kept me in the dark,” Britton said with a laugh.
And any initial fear of how the arm might react, well, that part is over.
“Those reservations have been gone for a while,” said Britton, eager to return to New York after spending the last few months at the organization’s compound in Tampa, Florida.
“But they spent so much money on the hits lab,” Britton said. “I might as well use it.”
Pete Caldera is the author of Yankees beats for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Yankees analysis, news, transactions and more, please sign up today and download our app.