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Orioles Notebook: Britton's worries relieved after strong performance

BALTIMORE - The newest Baltimore Orioles starter-turned-reliever, Zach Britton, had plenty of nerves when he entered in the sixth inning on Opening Day Monday.

But before that, he thinks he may have been getting on the nerves of his teammates.

"I'm picking everyone's ears. I think I'm probably getting annoying for every one," Britton said. "It's 'Hey, should I get warmed up now?' or looking at pitch counts or looking at who's coming up in the lineup. These are things I'm learning."

Britton hasn't learned all there is to relieving yet. But he certainly passed the first test.

The left-hander pitched two innings of scoreless relief and earned the win in Baltimore's 2-1 win over the Red Sox.

Britton's lone mistake was a one-out double in the sixth that was poked down the right-field line by Xander Bogaerts. But Britton retired all of the other six batters he faced, all via groundballs.

"Command wasn't great, I was getting behind guys, but able to make a good pitch to get some groundballs," Britton said. "That's kind of the way I script it up, get those quick outs on the ground."

In nine relief appearances during spring training, Britton gave up just two runs, one earned, in 10.2 innings of work. But he had just two career relief appearances prior to Monday.

If Britton is successful in becoming a strong reliever, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said it can be beneficial this season.

"Today was a good day to get off and carry over what he established in the spring," Showalter said, "so it bodes well for us if we have two guys pitching well left-handed that also get some right-handed hitters out."

The other lefty in the Baltimore bullpen is one that surely has advice he can give Britton. That would be Brian Matusz, a former starter who has rejuvenated his career the past three seasons coming out of the bullpen.

"I know the exact same feeling myself, making that switch from starter to reliever. But he loves to learn, always asking questions. He's going to do real well for us," Matusz said. "It was funny watching him this morning, how nervous he was. Zach just embraced the moment, went out and threw strikes, and did exactly his job."

Matusz and the rest of the Orioles bullpen did their job, too. After starter Chris Tillman limited Boston to one run in five innings, Britton, Evan Meek, Matusz and Tommy Hunter held the Sox scoreless the last four.

Hunter earned his first save as the full-time closer for the Orioles. Before that, Matusz came in with runners on first and second with two outs and got A.J. Pierzynski to ground out to end the inning.

It was Matusz's only out, but it certainly was an important one.

"It's awesome, being able to in a crucial situation in a game like that, being able to go in and inherit some runners and get us back in the dugout," Matusz said.

Matusz has stranded 48 of his last 53 inherited runners dating back to 2012.

SOLID, BUT NOT GREAT: In his first start following an impressive 2013 campaign, Tillman did a good job in holding the Red Sox to a single run. But he exited after just five innings, throwing 104 pitches and taking a no-decision.

Boston battled against Tillman, who went 16-7 last year, and forced the right-hander throw more pitches than he would've liked.

"It was a grind," Tillman said. "They put together some good at-bats, they battled me all the way through."

STREAKING: Although there was uncertainty about whether or not he would play, Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis started his eight consecutive Opening Day. Markakis had been dealing with neck stiffness that began Saturday on a flight from Sarasota, Fla. to Norfolk, Va.

Markakis now ranks tied for seventh in all-time Orioles Opening Day starts.

Adam Jones started his seventh straight Opening Day in center field for Baltimore.

GOOD AS GOLD: Jones, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy all received their Rawlings Gold Glove Awards for the 2013 season during a special pregame ceremony. It was the second straight season Baltimore had three Gold Glove recipients.

Machado also received his AL Platinum Glove, awarded to the best overall defender in the league.

STRONG STARTS: The Orioles are 39-22 all-time on Opening Day, and they have won 11 of their last 14 openers, including each of the last four. Baltimore is 6-2 on Opening Day against the Red Sox, 5-1 at home.

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