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Britton works through jitters in return to mound

Orioles closer works scoreless seventh inning against Brewers
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Zach Britton's return to the big leagues quickly provided him a rude awakening. It was a baseball, darting right back at him.

The Orioles closer made his return Wednesday in a 4-0 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park after missing 56 games due to a left forearm strain, surviving a comebacker on the third pitch of his outing and some sharp contact to toss a scoreless inning.

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MILWAUKEE -- Zach Britton's return to the big leagues quickly provided him a rude awakening. It was a baseball, darting right back at him.

The Orioles closer made his return Wednesday in a 4-0 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park after missing 56 games due to a left forearm strain, surviving a comebacker on the third pitch of his outing and some sharp contact to toss a scoreless inning.

View Full Game Coverage

An admittedly overanxious Britton just missed with his first pitch, a 93.8-mph two-seam fastball, to Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia to lead off the seventh, before spiking another heater in the dirt. Arcia then took Britton's third pitch and chopped it 84.1 mph right back off Britton's glove hand.

"It hit the glove, just kind of jammed me a little bit," Britton said. "Figures that's how the first one would go, right?"

Video: BAL@MIL: Machado cuts down Arcia after call stands

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado picked up the slow roller and got the out at first. Britton would work around a Hernan Perez single and walk to Eric Thames to get a scoreless frame in his first outing since May 4. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he needed to get Britton, who was activated off the 60-day disabled list before Wednesday's game, in action no matter what the situation.

"Maybe not statistically or with the inning, but there was pressure for him," Showalter said. "First time back in a long time, and I'm sure he had some nerves a little bit. That line drive off the glove kind of ... got his blood going."

When he's healthy, Britton has proven to be one of the best closers in baseball. Wednesday's shutout inning dropped his 2017 ERA to 0.90 in nine appearances this season, including a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities. He hasn't blown a save opportunity in his last 54 tries, the longest active streak in the Majors.

While Wednesday may not have been a save situation, it gave Britton a chance to knock off some of the cobwebs that come with pitching in the Majors.

"It's been a while since I've pitched in a big league game, so I was a little nervous and definitely overthrew some pitches," Britton said. "I just need to get my timing back and everything, but physically, I felt great. That's the best thing."

Britton's stuff wasn't as crisp as it is when he's at his peak, as evidenced by just one swing-and-miss in the 19-pitch inning. His fastball velocity averaged 94.5 mph, down from his pre-injury average of 96.3 this season, but he said he was most encouraged by his ability to rally from some early jitters. While he spiked the ball to Arcia and allowed Perez to reach third on a wild pitch, Britton rallied to induce soft contact from Jonathan Villar and Ryan Braun and escape the inning unscathed.

"[We wanted to] just get him out there," Showalter said. "I didn't want to get him out there very long, but I knew I was going to get him in there if any situation developed. We wanted to get him out there and not have him sit around. We ended up with a zero out there, and I think it'll get better from there."

Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago and covered the Orioles on Wednesday.

Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton