OAKLAND, CALIF. — Before Friday night's game against the Oakland Athletics, Orioles manager Buck Showalter talked about how difficult it is to get a reliever back into a routine after the All-Star break.
"It's always a tough time because you have bullpen guys who have had six, seven days off, and you're trying to get everybody back in the flow," Showalter said. "It's hard. You don't even have this in the start of the season because you try to make sure everybody's got a couple days off, but not too many days off. This is always a tough time for bullpens around baseball, getting them in the flow. They're used to having the ball in their hands every couple days."
But in analyzing left-hander Zach Britton's outing, in which he allowed a walk-off, three-run homer to Josh Donaldson in the ninth inning that sent the Orioles to a 5-4 loss, Showalter said he didn't think Britton had any rust.
"Zach made one bad pitch, swinging bunt, bat broke in half," Showalter said, listing Britton's misfortunes.
Most fans were probably asleep back on the East Coast by the time Britton entered the game Friday with a 4-2 lead. But Yoenis Cespedes opened the inning with a swinging bunt that Manny Machado didn't have a play on at third base. Brandon Moss broke his bat on a single flared down the line to shallow right field.
Donaldson, who was 0-for-1 with two walks and a strikeout entering the at-bat, obviously was sitting on Britton's mid-90s sinker on the first pitch. (Opponents are now hitting .333 against Britton on the first pitch.) Still, Britton was hoping one of those sinkers would lead to a double-play ball that could help get the Orioles out of the inning. But it didn't.
"It was definitely tough," Britton said. "I made some good pitches, but guys got on. I was one pitch from getting a double-play ball, and then that game's different. Donaldson put a really good swing on the pitch, and you just tip your cap to him."
All three of Britton's blown saves have been on the road. Two of those games ended on walk-off homers in the bottom of the ninth inning. New York's Carlos Beltran also hit a three-run homer off Britton to beat the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth June 20 at Yankee Stadium. Britton's first blown save came May 27 in Milwaukee, a game the Orioles eventually lost to the Brewers, 7-6, in 10 innings.
It's too early to be calling for a new closer. Britton has built up a solid resume, holding opposing hitters to a .184 average. But this is the time of the season in which teams make adjustments to pitchers. It will be up to Britton to beat them to that.
Given the fact that Britton threw just six pitches, expect Showalter to go to him in the ninth again Saturday, if the need arises.
"He's got to know that he did his job," Orioles starter Chris Tillman said. "He went out and pretty much got two outs. We've got another game tomorrow."