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With season winding down, Orioles closer Zach Britton finding form but no regular workload

SEATTLE — Opportunities have been few and far between for Zach Britton recently, with just 4 2/3 innings of work over the past 18 days coming into Monday's series opener against the Seattle Mariners. So it's been a challenge for the Orioles closer to find the rhythm that most ninth-inning relievers get into down the stretch of the regular season.

That's why manager Buck Showalter asked Britton to get one out in the eighth inning of the team's 9-3 loss Sunday to the Oakland Athletics. Britton needed to face three batters to get the one out in a nonsave situation, allowing a home run to first baseman Matt Olson, the first homer Britton has allowed to a left-handed hitter since becoming a reliever in the beginning of the 2014 season.

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Left-handed hitters are 7-for-22 (.318) against Britton this season. Last season, Britton held them to a .185 batting average.

"He'd thrown 22 pitches over [the previous] seven days," Showalter said of Britton's rocky outing Sunday. "I think he's been in a pretty good groove, but the challenge is, he could go pitch three days in a row in a meaningful situation. That's the life of a closer. You have to be imaginative in ways to get him in. … [Pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] and I told him before the game that he was going to pitch in some form or fashion, and I think he trusts us. He says, 'Whatever you guys think.' I said: 'Yes, it's been a long time. You need to get back on the hill.' "

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Before Sunday's appearance, Britton hadn't allowed a hit over his previous six appearances, with just two base runners over 15 plate appearances, so he's starting to find the form that made him the American League's best closer last season.

Still, it's been a challenge getting into a groove for Britton. He pitched three straight days, from July 29-31, against the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, but his workload has been otherwise sporadic. And over his past seven outings, only two have been at least an inning long.

"We're getting to 1 1/2 months left in the season. It would be nice to get into a nice stretch, because I feel good," Britton said. "I feel like I'm over anything I had physically, and now, it's about getting back into a consistent rhythm, a consistent workload, and that's tough.

"Over the last few years, we've been winning a lot of games, a lot of opportunities, not just in save situations, but just getting into games consistently. Rarely did I have three of four days off, and it's something that's happened a lot lately. I try to pride myself on, no matter the situation, to be effective. Unfortunately, it seems like in nonsave situations, it's been pretty crappy. That's not something I like. I always feel like I should be good in a game."

"I think the struggle is always to get into a good rhythm, so the more you throw, the easier it is to get into that. I've been feeling good. I threw three days in a row and I actually felt like I found a nice little rhythm. … I'm feeling pretty close to where I want to be."

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