Zack Britton had pitched on teams that have won the AL East before — well, one — before he got to the Yankees last season.
The lefty was in his first full season in the majors — and his first as a full-time relief pitcher — when Baltimore won the division in 2014.
But that experience, as well as last year’s success after Britton arrived in The Bronx following a July trade from the Orioles didn’t quite prepare him for what he believes is in store for 2019.
“It’s always fun to feel like you legitimately have a good shot on Opening Day,’’ Britton said in Washington, where the Yankees played their final exhibition game against the Nationals before Thursday’s opener at Yankee Stadium against Britton’s former team.
“Even in ’14, we won the division with Baltimore, but it took guys having crazy career years,’’ Britton said. “And in 2016, I felt like we were pretty good and we got to the wild-card game. You never had the feeling coming into camp and going into the regular season that if we don’t get deep into the playoffs, it’s gonna be a disappointment.’’
That’s where Britton is now, with the Yankees set to work out at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
“This is the first time I can really say, ‘There’s not too many teams better, if any, than us this year,’ ” Britton said.
A healthy Britton will be key to what the Yankees feel is one of their top strengths heading into 2019, as he’ll join Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, newcomer Adam Ottavino and eventually Dellin Betances in setting up Aroldis Chapman.
Britton is now more than a year removed from the Achilles surgery that impacted him throughout last season and he said he has developed a regular routine that allows him to keep his legs in good shape and also focus on pitching — which was something he couldn’t do in 2018.
“I don’t think about it anymore,’’ Britton said. “I’m just able to think about competing. I don’t have to worry about being healthy or managing discomfort.’’
And after settling into his new surroundings last year and watching what the Yankees did to the roster during the offseason — including bringing him back — Britton is confident both the pitching staff and lineup are deep enough to withstand just about anything.
“I go back to 2016 when I had a crazy streak of not blowing any games,’’ Britton said of a stretch that began on June 24 when he appeared in 39 games and allowed one run in 36 ¹/₃ innings, while racking up 26 saves.
“We needed every one of those wins,’’ Britton said. “But I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I didn’t put pressure on myself. If everyone here does what we know they can do, we’re fine.’’
As an example, Britton pointed to Miguel Andujar.
“You look at a guy like Andujar, he doesn’t immediately have to be guy he was last year,’’ Britton said of the third baseman that was thrust into the lineup early last season and consistently produced. “[Gleyber] Torres can just be Torres. We know we’ve got [Aaron] Judge, [Giancarlo] Stanton and guys like that to pick everyone up. I’ve never really been around so many players like this and I just think we all know the expectations and embrace them.’’