Sharper Britton nearing return to closer role

Left-hander happy with results in scoreless inning in Sunday's loss to Cubs

Sharper Britton nearing return to closer role

BALTIMORE -- Entering the series finale against the Cubs, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that Zach Britton had finally started pitching the way he was pitching prior to his 60-day disabled list stint. On Sunday, Britton felt the same way, meaning the lefty is one step closer to returning to the closing role.

"Yeah, I mean if you look at the outs, a lot of weak ground balls today. I made a bad pitch to [Ian] Happ, a breaking ball that he hit, that's not something I would do in a save situation. When you're not in position to probably win the game, you can kind of work on some pitches," Britton said. "I'm not sure [when I'll be used in save situations]. [Showalter] had mentioned the every-other-day thing, but I would assume if we got some winnable games, I'll throw later and kind of hang around for a save situation."

In an 8-0 loss to the Cubs, Britton started the eighth inning with a 6-0 deficit. The lefty allowed a leadoff single to Happ, but forced back-to-back groundouts from Jason Heyward and Addison Russell. With a runner on third, Britton walked Jon Jay before inducing Ben Zobrist to ground out to third and escape the inning.

"I feel good, you know, physically," Britton said. "Where we are right now, just trying to get innings in games. You know, [I] would like it to be in a situation where we're winning games, but that's kind of where we're at. It's not ideal for me, but I feel good, so that's a plus."

Showalter on shutout loss

The closer went on the disabled list for the second time this season on May 5 with a left forearm strain. He was reinstated on July 5 and, since that evening, Britton has been on an every-other-day schedule to get him some work before being put back in the high-leverage closer role.

"I think there's such a process in that when you look at everything he went through to get here," Showalter said on Saturday. "If you remember the first two or three outings, it wasn't Zach, and you could tell [by] the look on his face he didn't feel good about the command of the sinker and everything, and that's why we tried to stay on an every-other-day thing."

Britton's return has given some depth to a bullpen that has been forced to come into games as early as the third and fourth innings of late. Prior to his second DL stint, Britton had posted a 1.00 ERA through nine innings. After going a perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities last season, Britton is carrying a 54-game save streak -- dating back to Oct. 1, 2015 -- which is tied for the second-longest of its kind in Major League history.

"He wants perfection, and when it's not there, he's not satisfied with it until a very few times last year, [well] the last two years, [when he had] very historic times for a reliever statistically," Showalter said. "There were times where he felt like he wasn't really good, but he was, obviously."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.