Orioles' Zach Britton hopes to duplicate great 2016 season

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) It's been a short spring training for Zach Britton.

Early in camp, the Baltimore Orioles' left-handed reliever, who converted all 47 of his save opportunities in 2016, felt discomfort in his left oblique and was held out. Britton has said if this were the regular season he would have pitched, and that he is close to being ready to go.

Manager Buck Showalter had wanted Britton to begin pitching in the second week of Grapefruit League games and follow the plan he set for two veteran right-handers Brad Brach and Darren O'Day.

Instead, the Orioles kept Britton out until March 14 when he allowed two runs on four hits in an inning against Tampa Bay. Britton was upset after that game, but he followed it with a scoreless inning on March 17 against Pittsburgh.

The oblique issues are long gone, Britton said.

''Well, the second one was a lot better than the first one. That's a good sign,'' Britton said. ''No more symptoms of that, nothing's creeped back or anything. I feel really good now. I can just focus on getting ready for the season. I feel pretty good with where I'm at this year compared to where I was last year.''

Britton followed the two innings with a minor league game Monday where he struck out the side on 12 pitches.

His schedule is set for the rest of spring. On Wednesday, Britton will pitch an inning against Tampa Bay, and after a few days off, he'll pitch on consecutive days,

''I'm pretty close. As a reliever now, it only takes a few innings., Britton said. ''It kind of clicks for you one day, and then you're ready for the season to start where as a starter you've got to build up those innings, and I don't need to do that anymore.''

In 2016, Britton had a marvelous season. After giving up his third earned run of the year on April 30, Britton went nearly four months - until Aug. 24 when he allowed his fourth and final run.

''A historical year,'' Showalter said. ''I don't think you'll ever see another year like that.''

The Orioles ended that year with Britton famously sitting in the bullpen when the Toronto Blue Jays won the American League wild-card game last October.

Early in spring training, Britton was the most popular interview subject in the clubhouse, but now the attention has gone elsewhere.

''A lot of people want to ask me about the wild-card game, and I think you guys have all covered it. I don't know how much more you can say on that, but everyone wants to talk about it and bring it up when they come in,'' Britton said. ''There are other storylines in here that were a little more interesting, I think.''

NOTES: RHP Chris Tillman, who will begin the season on the 10-day disabled list, is set to resume throwing on March 26. Tillman had a cortisone shot on his right shoulder on March 15. . Showalter expects C Welington Castillo, 3B Manny Machado and 2B Jonathan Schoop in camp Wednesday. Castillo and Machado played for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Schoop played for the Netherlands. . OF Seth Smith (hamstring) hasn't played since March 8. INF Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) has been out since March 13.

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