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Zach Britton returns as healthy, improved cog in Yankees’ bullpen

Zach Britton said he could have been a closer again.

Instead, he chose to come back to the Yankees, where he’ll be a key element to a bullpen that has Aroldis Chapman in that role.

“I think the fact I had been a closer and I knew that I could do that at a high level, it wasn’t something [where] I needed to prove myself at all,” Britton said on a conference call Friday. “I wanted to go back to a team that was gonna to win year in and year out. If the opportunity wasn’t there for me to close, that was kind of OK.”

He also credited the creativity behind the contract negotiated by general manager Brian Cashman and Britton’s agent, Scott Boras. It’s a four-year deal, but Britton can opt-out after second year if the Yankees don’t trigger the fourth year by then, or he can play out the third year.

“Talking to Scott, I wanted to work something out with the Yankees and I wanted some contract flexibility,” Britton said. “I didn’t feel like I was close to myself last year, so I wanted to get stronger again and further removed from the surgery, put together good year or two together and have the opportunity to explore free agency again if that’s where I was. I think the Yankees were looking for some protection, too.”

And the Britton who signed with the Yankees in a deal that became official Friday is significantly different from the one they got in a trade from Baltimore in July.

The 31-year-old left-hander is now more than a year removed from surgery to repair his Achilles tendon and feels noticeably healthier.

“I’m continuing to gain strength,” said Britton, who was checked out by team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad on Thursday.

“I pretty much have full range of motion back [near the injury],” Britton said. “And 90 percent of strength in the calf area, which is the most important area.”

Britton didn’t return to the Orioles until June last season, and his command wasn’t at its best, even after the move to The Bronx.

“It was a grind last year,” Britton said. “At times I felt like my lower body was detached from my upper body. I did the best I could with where I was physically.”

In his first 13 appearances after the July 24 trade, Britton gave up 15 hits and seven walks in 13 1/3 innings, striking out 12. He finished the regular season by allowing just two unearned runs, three hits and four walks over his final 10 appearances. He whiffed nine over 9 2/3 innings in that span.

“I’m looking forward to being just another guy who’s healthy with a full spring training under my belt,” Britton said. “Because the years I’ve had a full spring training are the best years I’ve had.”

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