PORTLAND, Maine — The 2011 season is one that could have been a major setback for young pitcher Drake Britton.
The lefthander went 1-13 for Salem of the Class A Carolina League with a 6.91 ERA.
But the fact Britton is currently a member of the starting rotation for the Double-A Eastern League’s Portland Sea Dogs shows that he has turned a potentially disastrous season into a positive.
“In a way, as a person and a pitcher, I needed last year to happen,” said the 23-year-old Britton. “It was definitely a humbling experience. But I matured and being able to go through a nightmarish season and not let it get you down makes you stronger as an individual.”
Britton returned to Salem and was 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA this spring before being called up to the Sea Dogs where he has been a pleasant surprise.
Through his first three starts, he was 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA. He had pitched 16⅓ innings and had given up 11 hits and two runs with 11 strikeouts and eight walks.
He was chosen the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after his first two starts.
“I’ve been very impressed with him,” said Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles. “He has been terrific. He has a solid mound presence and a beautiful delivery. He has the ability to throw three quality pitches. He has a quality arm and a bright future ahead of him.”
Britton received a big boost when the Red Sox put him on their 40-man major league roster despite his troubles.
“That was very exciting. That gave me my confidence back,” said Britton. “It was a good feeling to know they still believed in me.”
Britton, a 23rd-round draft pick of the Red Sox out of Tomball (Texas) High School, was rated the Red Sox’s No. 14 prospect by MLB.com entering this season.
He worked hard in the offseason, including altering his mental approach to pitching.
“I walked a lot of guys last year so when I’d throw [a first-pitch] ball one, I felt I had to be perfect to avoid walking the hitter. I should have just taken it one pitch at a time,” said Britton. “I’m human. I’m still going to walk guys. But I’ve learned how to pitch out of those situations and how to do damage control rather than have the inning blow up in my face.”
He has five pitches. He has two- and four-seam fastballs, a curve, slider and a changeup.
His fastball is consistently in the 92-93 mph range.
He has been particularly pleased with the development of his changeup.
“The changeup is a great pitch,” said Britton. “People don’t understand that if you throw a good changeup, it messes the hitters up. I never had a changeup my first two to three seasons.”
He has refined his changeup by throwing it every other pitch while warming up or playing catch before a game.
He credits Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker and hitting coach Rich Gedman for helping him develop and move up the ladder.
“Kevin Walker has been my pitching coach the last three years and has been with me through the good times and the bad,” said Britton. “And Gedman was a longtime big leaguer with a lot of experience.”
He said he had a very productive talk with Gedman at breakfast one day in which Gedman simply told him to not worry so much and to stop dwelling on things.
“He said if you go out and give up four runs in the first inning, just focus on holding them to four runs the rest of the way and do everything you can to give your team a chance to win the game,” said Britton.
He said he goes into every game with a game plan and confidence in himself to get the job done.
“I trust my stuff. I don’t try to do too much. I pitch to contact and try to pitch deep into a game,” said Britton. “There are very good players at this level. I just try to attack the [strike] zone and have fun with it. That’s what it’s all about.”
He is enjoying Portland and his stint with the Sea Dogs.
“I love it. I’m having a good time. It has been nice to turn the page on last year,” said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Britton.