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Yankees’ Zack Britton rusty in first outing in 2022

Zack Britton returned to a big league mound on Saturday for the first time in 13 months, but his command did not come with him.

In his season debut, after he had UCL surgery on his left elbow last September, the Yankees reliever allowed three walks and a run while recording just one out in what became a 7-5 win over the Red Sox in The Bronx.

“Very anxious warming up and stuff, so good to get that one out of the way,” Britton said. “Felt fine afterwards, so now it’s about putting together good outings and improving the command. Stuff was actually OK. It’s about getting back to being who I want to be, throwing late in games and contributing, having good innings.”

Britton entered the game — his first since Aug. 19, 2021 — to start the sixth inning with the Yankees leading 5-3. He began by walking the left-handed hitting Rafael Devers on a full count. Xander Bogaerts followed with a single to left field and took second on Oswaldo Cabrera’s throw to third, which could not nab Devers.

Britton then struck out lefty Alex Verdugo with a slider before walking Kiké Hernandez and lefty Triston Casas on eight pitches. The second base on balls forced in a run to cut the Yankees’ lead to 5-4.

Zack Britton
Zack Britton
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

With Britton at 19 pitches — only seven of which were strikes — manager Aaron Boone pulled the lefty, who walked off the mound to a smattering of boos.

“I thought his arm looked quick, the stuff was sharp, the sinker was there,” Boone said. “Obviously wasn’t a great line for him or not one of his best performances, but it wasn’t one of those where he was just searching. I felt like he was just a tick off command-wise.”

Lou Trivino relieved Britton and picked him up by retiring both batters he faced in the sixth inning without allowing any of the three inherited runners to score.

Britton’s performance over the final week and a half of the regular season will be critical to determine whether he will be part of the Yankees’ playoff roster. Though his first shot did not go as he hoped, the 34-year-old should have several more opportunities to show what he can do before postseason decisions are made.

While command is typically the last thing to come back for a pitcher who had elbow surgery, Britton’s three walks on Saturday were one more than he had issued in his entire eight-game rehab assignment, which spanned 6 ²/₃ innings.

In a more encouraging trend, Britton’s 16 sinkers averaged 93.3 mph — up from the 92.6 mph the pitch averaged last year.

“I want to be much better than that,” Britton said. “But the velocity definitely upticked and that was encouraging for everybody. Movement was good, it’s just a matter of commanding. That’s the next step.”

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