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Zach Britton still needs tuning up as Orioles spring training comes to a close

A spring training that was shortened for Zach Britton due to oblique soreness has left him a little short of the work he wanted to get in.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

If the Orioles are going to surprise the baseball prediction industry for a second consecutive season, part of what they will need is for every good part of last year’s team to be about as good again this year. What they don’t need, and what no Orioles fan wants to read, is a headline like this with four days to go until Opening Day:

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

That’s from a Thursday morning article from The Baltimore Sun. Regular readers of this site know that sometimes I am prone to panic about the Orioles, but no one can feel good about being a long weekend away from the first game that counts and still having some uncertainty about Britton.

The 2016 season from Britton was about as close as a baseball player can be to perfect. No one is ever going to post a 0.00 ERA and 0.000 WHIP season. Britton’s 0.54 ERA, 0.836 WHIP, and flawless 47-for-47 in save chances is as good as it gets. Fans remain unhappy about the one time he wasn’t used rather than any time he was.

Which is why reading Britton’s self-assessment of “command has been a little erratic” is scary. Is he going to be rounded off into the exact form he wants coming right out of the gate?

It’s understandable that things haven’t gone as smoothly for Britton with his preparation routine this spring. He did experience a setback with some oblique soreness that kept him out of game action for a little while. So he simply hasn’t had the same amount of time to shake off the rust and get everything in order.

Britton didn’t sound too concerned about it. He told the Sun’s Jon Meoli that he will typically get everything sorted out in about ten innings worth of spring work. After a game yesterday in which Britton walked two and allowed two hits in 1.1 innings, Britton has a total of 5.1 innings this spring.

He is expected to remain behind when the rest of the team flies up to Norfolk for an exhibition game tomorrow. That gives Britton an opportunity to get in another inning in a minor league game, but he’d still be several innings short of what he says he usually needs.

Does that mean Britton’s first three outings could be trouble? Hopefully not. This could all turn out to be nothing. But it’s going to be one more thing to keep an eye on when trying to figure out the team’s fortune for the season.