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Britton brushes off rough outing amid competition

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Zach Britton, vying for Baltimore's final rotation spot, didn't help his cause Wednesday with a disappointing start against the Blue Jays in which he allowed five earned runs and didn't make it out of the second inning. But as Opening Day draws near, the 25-year-old left-hander said he "definitely" still thinks it's possible he opens the season as the Orioles' fifth starter.

"I don't think stats are everything they are looking at," said Britton, who is competing primarily with Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson and Brian Matusz, and has a 6.10 spring ERA. "Obviously, you don't want to have a game like this at all -- whether it's the season or Spring Training -- but I think there's other stuff they are looking at. I feel healthy, my stuff has been pretty good. Obviously, the results today weren't very good, but the velocity has been pretty good, movement on pitches has been pretty good."

Making his third spring start and fifth appearance, Britton gave up seven hits, including Emilio Bonifacio's two-run homer, and walked two while he recorded only five outs. He walked two of the first three batters, loading the bases before J.P. Arencibia smoked a three-run double into left-center field to give Toronto a 3-0 lead before he recorded a single out. Britton needed 24 pitches to record his first out, 36 to complete the first inning, and 59 before manager Buck Showalter lifted him with two on and two out in the second inning.

"That's true," Showalter said when told of Britton's belief the Orioles are not using a purely statistical analysis in making a decision on their fifth starter. "That's what we are doing. That's why I said what I did. Zach has pitched well down here for the most part, hitter-friendly day and it didn't go his way.

"He's pitched well for the most part. He's had a couple of less-than-what-he's-capable outings, and the rest of them have been pretty good."

Britton said he was working on his four-seam fastball and acknowledged it's tough to find the balance of trying to improve while fighting for a spot.

"You've got to find the balance between them," said Britton, who went 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 appearances last year after starting the season on the disabled list. "I wasn't getting ahead, and there were probably sometimes where I could have gone to a sinker and maybe tried to get out of the inning instead of being stubborn and going with the four-seamer. But I trusted [catcher Matt Wieters] behind there. I kind of went with what he wanted to call. He knew the game plan, and I think sometimes it's more important that you work on it, and if you do have a bad outing, it's Spring Training. But I don't have the luxury of having an outing like that when you're competing for a spot."

Britton has allowed seven earned runs this spring on 13 hits and four walks, striking out seven over 10 1/3 innings. He finished up his work Wednesday in the bullpen and may only get one more start before the team makes a decision on its fifth starter.

"I think you just have to show you bounce back, I think that's the biggest thing here," he said. "Showing that you are healthy. I felt like my rhythm was good on the mound. It just wasn't there, I didn't really sync it up. It was just a matter of getting the ball down and locate it better."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
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