FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It may seem counterintuitive -- and Drake Britton still can’t quite figure it out -- but an unexpected conversation with a hitting coach inexorably altered his pitching career with the Red Sox.
Britton, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefthander, was eating an early breakfast alone in Class-A Salem’s team hotel in Winston-Salem, N.C., one morning last year in the first few days of May.
He hadn’t been able to sleep the night before -- same as the night before and the night before that. He had endured a disastrous 2011 season in Salem, going 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA, after starting the year as the organization’s No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America. And he was scuffling around in 2012 with a 1-3 record and 10.71 ERA.
During breakfast, Rich Gedman, the team’s hitting coach, appeared “out of nowhere” and asked if he could join Britton.
“The conversation just happened from there,” Britton said. “He told me instead of worrying about my personal stats and where I want to be and things like that, just go out and pitch with the mentality that I’m going to give my team the best opportunity to win.”
Britton said Gedman didn’t offer any mechanical tips he gleaned from working with big-league pitchers for 13 years as a two-time All-Star catcher with the Red Sox. But he was somehow able to get inside Britton’s head with something he said.
“It was just that little thing,” Britton said. “It was a complete turnaround overnight. It took all the weight off me. It was no longer about me and the things I was doing. I put that into my team and what I wanted to do just to help us win. That took all the pressure off me and allowed me to have fun again and play for the team rather than myself.”
Britton went 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA in May, and later was called up to Double-A Portland, where he was 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 16 starts, striking out 76 in 84 2/3 innings.
The 23-year-old Britton, who is expected to be part of the starting rotation in Triple-A Pawtucket, has come so far that he will be handed the ball in the second inning of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. Following John Lackey, Britton will go two innings or 35 pitches.
“I’m going to be pumped,” he said. “It’s going to mean a lot.”
And at some point, he would like to get an extended session with special assistant Pedro Martinez.
“I’ve seen him around and have had some small talk, joking with him from time to time,” he said. “I’d love to get a chance to sit down and talk baseball with him, talk pitching. I mean, it’s Pedro Martinez.”
Breakfast would be nice, but he’d settle for 10 minutes on Field 3.