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At long last, Britton back in 9th-inning role

MLB.com

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have had a long wait for their lights-out closer to return to his role. But after a 60-day stint on the disabled list and six relief appearances, Zach Britton returned to the ninth inning, where he belongs, on Thursday.

For the first time since April 14, the Orioles were able to set up the back end of their bullpen the way they envisioned at the start of the season with Darren O'Day in the seventh, Brad Brach in the eighth and Britton in the ninth.

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BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have had a long wait for their lights-out closer to return to his role. But after a 60-day stint on the disabled list and six relief appearances, Zach Britton returned to the ninth inning, where he belongs, on Thursday.

For the first time since April 14, the Orioles were able to set up the back end of their bullpen the way they envisioned at the start of the season with Darren O'Day in the seventh, Brad Brach in the eighth and Britton in the ninth.

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Britton entered in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 9-7 win with Baltimore holding a four-run lead. He looked sharp against his first two batters, forcing both Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez to ground out on just two pitches apiece. But after two outs, his command started to slip.

Robinson Chirinos doubled to left and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Delino DeShields worked a walk on seven pitches before Shin-Soo Choo knocked in two runs on a single. Britton then ended the game on an Elvis Andrus flyout.

"Command wasn't as sharp, obviously, as the pitch count got up, but you know I've been throwing every other day for a long time now, so that's kind of been the schedule, but yeah, maybe a little fatigued at the end there," Britton said. "But physically, I'm feeling good, really good. ... That's going to be the issue for me, really, just the command of it. Everything else is there."

Britton is five-for-five in save opportunities this season and is tied for second all-time with 54 consecutive opportunities converted. With the record on the line, manager Buck Showalter thought it may have been beneficial for Britton to enter in the ninth inning, in a close game, but not a save situation.

"That's one of those things that's almost good in a way, for him to get a lot of pitches and get a good sweat going," Showalter said. "He likes perfection. He'll be better as a result of it."

Now that Britton is back in the ninth inning, he has just one more step to make to finalize his return. Since rejoining the team, he has pitched every other day. If the Orioles find themselves in a save situation on Friday in the series opener against the Astros, he could go back-to-back in the Majors for the first time since April 13-14.

"I'm capable of throwing every day," Britton said. "It was nice to kind of get ready for a save situation every day [tonight], but for me, it's just the command. Movement is there. Obviously, I'm getting ground balls, but I just need to improve the command. Simple as that."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.

Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton