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Orioles closer Zach Britton racing clock to find delivery ahead of Opening Day

SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles closer Zach Britton struggled with his location Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays in what was his longest and last Grapefruit League outing. He said the compressed schedule caused by soreness in his left side has made it a race toward Opening Day.

Last spring, manager Buck Showalter saw a few sessions of Britton throwing and declared him ready for the season. He turned in one of the greatest relief seasons in history, converting all 47 of his save chances with a 0.54 ERA. After Britton walked two and allowed two hits in 1 1/3 scoreless but difficult innings, Showalter noted how spoiled they were with perfection a season ago, to the point that any issue for Britton becoming noticeable.

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For Britton, the difference between his springs is simple. He has allowed two runs on six hits and five walks with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings this spring.

"Last year, I was able to throw a lot of bullpens in between outings," Britton said. "I haven't been able to do that at all. We're going to be able to incorporate a bullpen in — another inning and a bullpen before Opening Day, and that might be all I need. It's not something that's physical or anything like that. It's just mound time, and that's what spring is for. But when you have your spring cut short a little bit, you've just got to do a little more work on the side.

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"It's OK. Command has been a little erratic, really — yesterday [it] was mostly. The ones before, I was pretty close. Yesterday was the one where it was pretty much going everywhere. The other times, I felt like I was pretty close to being ready. It's just a matter of figuring it out on the mound. I was hoping that extended outing would help me get back on track a little bit, and it did in some areas, but I just need another inning. We'll do that tomorrow."

The plan has always been for Britton to hang back in Sarasota when the team goes to Norfolk for Friday's exhibition, and he'll be joined by seven or eight pitchers, he said, including Ubaldo Jimenez and Brad Brach.

All will pitch in a minor league game before flying north to Baltimore, and Britton will have a bullpen session during Sunday's workout to prepare for Opening Day.

"I obviously don't have as many innings as I've had in the past," Britton said. "There's a few things I want to tighten up. Nothing really glaring, it's just a normal spring where you just kind of want to get your delivery in order. Normally, I have about 10 innings to do it. I think I only have five or six. It just gives me a chance to stay back here."

Around the horn: The Orioles' game on Saturday, May 20, against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards has been moved from 4:05 p.m. to 7:35 p.m. … Alec Asher, a right-hander the Orioles acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, will debut Thursday against the Detroit Tigers.

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