It was a battle for Drake Britton on Tuesday night, the nerves and anxiety building every time he fell behind a batter. Yet when he sat down after five innings, the scoreboard at Hadlock Field surprised him.
"When I sat down and I saw all those zeros, I was like, 'Oh, OK,'" he said.
Britton survived what he termed "jitters" in his Double-A debut, pitching around a season-high six walks over five hitless innings as the Portland Sea Dogs beat the Bowie Baysox, 6-1.
The Red Sox's No. 13 prospect struck out two but issued at least one walk in each of the first three innings before pitching a 1-2-3 fifth. He started the game by walking Antoan Richardson but picked him off.
"I just kept going out there, telling myself to trust what I'm doing and whatever I've been doing," Britton said. "I've been throwing well to go get up here, and even though I was nervous, I didn't want to let it get to me like it has in the past. I knew my stuff was good tonight."
Good enough to escape a few jams.
The 23-year-old left-hander issued consecutive walks in the second to Rhyne Hughes and Josh Barfield, then walked Allan de San Miguel and Robbie Widlansky in the third. The free pass to Widlansky loaded the bases for Manny Machado, but Britton got the Orioles' top prospect to pop up to end the inning.
"After I walked the bases loaded, [Sea Dogs catcher Dan] Butler came out, told me I was pitching around the zone," Britton said. "Our pitching coach came out and told me the same exact thing. I still went 1-1 on Machado, but I wasn't going to stray away from giving him a pitch in the zone. He was late on it and he popped out."
Britton survived a two-out error by third baseman Nick Natoli in the fourth before cruising through his final frame, striking out Buck Britton for his final out.
Still, Britton didn't want to blame his control issues on the nerves he had after coming up from the Carolina League.
"A little combination of first-game jitters and it was raining a little bit here, but I don't want to blame it on that," he said. "I was a little spotty, and even if I had walks two times in a row, I never really let it bother me too much. I walked the bases loaded, but I just kept at it, and it worked out to my advantage."
Will Latimer pitched the next three innings, allowing one run, before Aaron Kurcz struck out two in the ninth to finish the win. Butler homered in the eighth to put the game out of reach.
Britton, a 2007 23rd-round Draft pick, earned a promotion to the Eastern League after going 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA in 10 starts for Class A Advanced Salem. He held Lynchburg to five hits over six shutout innings in his last start on Wednesday, and that was enough for the Red Sox to pull the trigger.
For Britton, the flight to Maine was a welcome change.
"I was ecstatic, I was so excited. It was very unexpected," he said. "I know how jam-packed the [Red Sox] system is, and I was throwng well down there, but I wasn't expecting to get the call. I had a big smile on my face, I was ready to get out of Salem. I was excited to just get up here, to compete at a higher level."
Britton said he wanted to keep pitching after the fifth, but with his pitch count growing, he knew his night would end soon.
"I went 1-2-3 and it was my best inning, but I was inconsistent with my breaking ball and change and even my fastball at times," Britton said. "I went out there and was gonna throw every pitch as hard as I could, right through the catcher, and nobody is going to touch it."
So after emptying the tank in the fifth, Britton finally had a chance to look back. Eastern League hitters are more patient and the numbers don't lie.
"To me, the only thing I could see is they were definitely more patient," he said. "I was getting away throwing 1-0 or 2-0 and I could come back with a changeup [in the Carolina League]. But here, if you don't throw them a strike, they won't swing."
As for the no-hitter, the reigning Carolina League Pitcher of the Week didn't pay much attention to it.
"Absolutely not, I honestly ... I recognized it after the third that I hadn't given up a hit, but I walked the house," he said laughing. "I went back in for the fourth and even though I was walking guys, I said, 'If I can keep pitching like this and getting outs, I'm fine with that.'"