After erratic workload, Orioles closer Zach Britton finds trouble converting four-out save opportunity

You can’t get save opportunities when your team doesn’t have the lead, so Orioles closer Zach Britton hadn’t had many recently before his blown save Tuesday night in the Orioles’ 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

When Britton entered the game with two-on and two-out in the eighth inning with the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead, it marked his first save situation since Aug. 30. It was his first four-out save opportunity since Aug. 5 against the Detroit Tigers.

He made quick work of Blue Jays slugger Kendrys Morales, getting him to swing through three mid-90s sinkers, jamming him inside for strike three.

But when Britton took the mound for the ninth, he wasn’t the same. He fell behind Kevin Pillar 3-1 and didn’t get a borderline call on the outer part of the plate, issuing a leadoff walk.

He tried to get a double-play ball from Teoscar Hernández and got the count to 2-2 by working the lower part of the plate but left a pitch slightly up that Hernández singled to right to put runners on the corners.

One batter too late, Britton got Darwin Barney to hit a ground ball to second, but the Orioles were able to get just one out at second on a fielder’s choice after Jonathan Schoop looked Pillar back to third.

Britton’s first pitch to No. 9 hitter Luke Maile was right where he wanted it, down and in, but Maile turned on it, sending a hard ground ball down the third-base line at 107.2 mph that Manny Machado was lucky to get a glove on before the ball bounced into foul territory behind third base. It was enough to allow Pillar to score.

After pounding the bottom of the zone against Richard Ureña, he left a 1-1 pitch up, and Ureña hit it over Britton to end the game.

“I was hoping to get a double-play ball [early], but just couldn’t make that quality pitch to get out of there,” Britton said. “Made a pretty good one to Barney. You just need to bear down and [I] kind of overthrew some pitches. You know they put good wood on the mistakes I made. You can’t make mistakes very often in that inning, especially multiple [mistakes] and expect to get out of there. They put good at-bats together but got to be better than that in the situation we are. I just didn’t make quality pitches.”

Late-inning relievers are at their best when they’re getting into a rhythm, especially down the stretch. And Britton’s appearance Tuesday night was just his second over a one-week span, his other being a four-pitch scoreless inning Sunday night in Cleveland.

He did have pair of scoreless, two-inning stints the last time the Orioles played the Blue Jays in the beginning of September, but since making the second of those appearances Sept. 3, he entered Tuesday having thrown just two innings and just 20 pitches.

Still, Britton didn’t want to pin the disappointing outing on rust.

“No, I mean I’ve been through stretches where I haven’t had a save opportunity for a while,” Britton said. “Like I said, I came in to Morales and pounded the zone down. Just wasn’t able to do it [in the ninth], didn’t repeat it when I went back out there.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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